Girl 38 is a sensitively and beautifully written story that perfectly weaves the past into the present, and shows how empathising with past events can impact on present ones, how learning about the bravery of others can lead to the strength to change our own path. Both the past and the present stories within this book captured me completely, and I found the impact Ania’s story had on Kat really powerful, heart-warming and hopeful.
Girl 38 is the courageous comic strip heroine created by Kat, a heroine that she wishes she could be more like as she is finding her own reality difficult to deal with. Kat has been friends with Gem ever since their first day at school, but theirs is a toxic friendship as Gem is controlling and manipulative with Kat constantly on edge, trying to keep her happy and going along with her plans, even when they make her feel uneasy. Kat feels under constant pressure to do whatever Gem wants, desperate not to have her turn her bullying attention on her the way she has on others.
One day, Kat helps her elderly Polish neighbour, Ania Jankowski after a fall. She feels an instant rapport with her and they soon develop a warm relationship as Ania shares her painting of her best friend Mila from many years previously. Kat’s interest is immediately piqued and Ania agrees to tell her about her past. I loved how their relationship developed so that Kat was eventually able to open up to Ania to share her own problems and to seek comfort and strength in their friendship and in Ania’s story.
Ania’s story is woven throughout the narrative, and is one of incredible daring, determination and courage. Ania lived in Poland during the Second World War. She watched her friend Mila being taken away. She had promised she would find her friend, and it is a promise which she intended keeping, no matter what. I was really eager for Kat to visit Ania so that I could learn more of her incredible story, and I can absolutely see how listening to Ania’s inspirational story gave Kat the courage to face her fears, just like her heroine, Girl 38.
Just after Kat starts visiting Ania, a new boy, Julius, starts at Kat’s school and he soon attracts the attention of Gem who wants to teach him a lesson for taking the attention away from her. She ropes Kat into helping her and, even though she doesn’t want to and knows she shouldn’t, Kat goes along with her plans which get more and more humiliating for Julius. As Kat learns more of Ania’s history, will she have the courage and strength to stand up for herself, to be open and honest and to allow herself the opportunity to develop a healthy friendship? Can she become the heroine of her own future?
The depiction of the relationships in this story felt incredibly genuine from the toxic relationship between Gem and Kat to the growing friendship between her and Julius and her warm relationship with Ania. Even though Gem is certainly a bully, I liked that the author gave an insight into her insecurity which may go some way to explaining, but not excusing, her bullying.
This is a story that truly captured my heart: I was completely invested in both Ania’s and Kat’s stories, and enjoyed how Ania’s story impacted on Kat’s present and helped her face up to a difficult situation, changing her future.
Thank you to Zephyr and Fritha Lindqvist for a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.