‘Girl Meets Boy‘ is a book I have never heard of until University (it was on my courses set reading list for the summer holidays). It is a retelling of classics – and what could be more classic than a book written in 8AD. For reference, it’s a retelling of the story of a poor family who cannot afford to have a female and therefore will kill their child upon birth should it be a girl. An intervention of the goddess Isis convinces the mum to somehow ‘go with the flow‘ – and raise the baby girl as a boy named Iphis. This continues until adolescence and is only feared to be discovered upon the marriage of Iphis to Ianthe. But another intervention means that Iphis is turned into a man and the story has a happy ending.
But my favourite thing about this book is that it deals deals with the idea gender fluidity or transformation within the context of heteronormativity. What Smith does, however, is to tell the story, or rather a story playing with similar ideas, in the context of two sisters, Anthea and Imogen (“Midge”). This is my favourite aspect of the book purely because I am a MASSIVE gender and sexuality nerd. Due to the classic story that the book is retelling, it means with the idea of sexual orientation / gender identity, which is something I like to read about – especially since the title (‘Boy Meets Girl’), is ‘a tale as old as time‘, which obviously raises the issue that heteronormativity and cisnormativity are two major issues within society. So its a modern retelling for the modern, political world.
Speaking of how it deals with gender, it deals with how the two genders and how they mix up – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy and a girl or whether you fall in love with a boy or a girl, Ali Smith deals with the transparancy between the two binary sexes beautifully.
However, the only minor criticism I have with the book is that it has a horrid sexist villain who is overcome and everything – but it’s a minor complaint (not the blatant sexism that exists within the villain) but the fact that the author, Ali Smith, has clearly retold the story with all the classic conventions that exist with classic stories and fairy tales (e.g. binary opposites like good and bad). But I do like how the book deals with sexism within society – like one of the female characters works at a water bottle company, which automatically means that she gets less pay than her male counterparts – meaning they paid less for the same damn job (and hence why the line “THIS MUST CHANGE.” is, in my opinion, so powerful).
Finally, Ali Smith has a poignant writing style, which is another thing I liked seeing as this is a modern retelling of a classic story. I’m kinda curious to read more books from her in the future.