In brief: Emily meets Tasmin at a protest and they become fast friends. But Tasmin has a secret behind her glamourous world, which tests Emily’s principles.
The good: Honest and captivating, tackling some thorny issues.
The not-so-good: I devoured this in less than 24 hours!
Why I chose it: Sounded like my kind of read. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.
Publisher: Manilla Press (Bonnier Books)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Young Women is a powerful story of the experience of young women in the setting of #MeToo. It’s about friendship, bonding over shared (awful) experiences and the rights of each woman to her own story – and whether she chooses to tell it.
The story opens as Emily is arrested at a protest – something quite out of character for the lawyer who is, well…fairly average on the surface. A lawyer who works for a charity for women’s rights, Emily feels strongly about the mistreatment of women in today’s society. Elsewhere, she’s a mess. She has split from her partner after an incident, she gets drunk a lot and she’s in a flat share on the outskirts of London. This is in dramatic contrast to her best friend from school Lucy, who has a job she loves, a partner and is about to buy a flat. Lucy is so boring and stable to Emily. So when she meets Tasmin as she gets arrested, it’s a breath of fresh air. Tasmin is a Canadian actor who has plenty of money and time on her hands. Together, they have a lot of fun from swimming at Hampstead Heath to running away from bad Tinder dates. There is also no shortage to good food and alcohol, but Tasmin just ‘gets’ Emily. But then a scandal breaks regarding historical sexual assault by a famous name and it’s all Emily can talk about. Tasmin, meanwhile, is becoming less polished and Emily puts two and two together…
The really interesting part of this story is the reactions of different characters to the sexual assaults in the media. Emily is like a bull at a gate, with only one ‘correct’ way forward in her head – tell all. She simply can’t see how anyone would do differently. Tasmin is against adding her voice to the women who have spoken out and it leads Emily to do the only thing she thinks she can. (I personally thought this was rather selfish, and in direct contradiction that Emily can’t tell the reader what caused the breakup between Harry and selfish). But it’s Lucy – so quiet and boring in Emily’s mind – that reacts completely differently and ultimately, was the most powerful revelation for me.
The novel looks at sexual assault, consent (and lack of it) and the objectification of women in multiple ways. The way some characters shrug it off yet others are affected daily. It also looks at the changing attitudes towards coercion, particularly when there are power imbalances in relationships that make consent very difficult. It also explores whether women have an obligation to speak out publicly, and the effects on them if they do so. Emily dreams she’s some kind of saviour and pillar of support for Tasmin to share her story. But at the same time, the women who did are subject to abuse and questioning online and in the media. Emily’s ideas are rather naïve, despite her work. I must admit that Lucy ended up being my favourite character in the end for her quiet strength. Overall, the novel is a powerful exploration of consent and friendship.