Disclaimer: This novel contains some graphic sex scenes, which may not be suitable for younger audiences. Reader’s discretion is advised.
Kate Hattemer’s newest release, The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid, is the perfect illustration of what it means to be a feminist. The book revolves around the personal struggles of self-proclaimed feminist Jemima Kincaid, who prides herself in standing up against the patriarchy and stepping up for what she believes in: gender equality. But it’s difficult for Jemima to always stand up for what she believes in. She finds herself constantly questioning her true feminist label as she falls deeply in love with a popular jock, criticizes her best friend for running for president and secretly bullies girls for wearing tight pants. On top of all of this, Jemima’s attempts to make prom more gender-neutral backfire heavily. The inner turmoil Jemima experiences within the novel gives readers a very clear picture of what it truly means to be a feminist.
There are definitely many highlights in this novel, but one of my favorite storylines that Hattemer develops is the storyline revolving around Jemima and her best friend Jiyoon. The two girls have a budding friendship that is wildly unique. In the beginning pages of the book, readers watch as Jiyoon and Jemima construct a future, retirement-home-Esque diorama. As the story progresses, their friendship only strengthens. One of the most interesting things about this friendship is how different the two friends are at the core. Although they participate in many of the same activities and seem to have the same feminist beliefs, Jiyoon is much more grounded than Jemima is, meaning that at points in the story, the two of them get into heated arguments. However, I think that these arguments only add to their strong friendship and since the two of them always try to work it out, their maturity only made me fall deeper in love with the friendship. When typical high school friendships are not deeper than liking a couple of posts on social media, the bond that Jiyoon and Jemima share gives readers a picture of what true friends really look like.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the way Hattemer portrayed each of her characters. Instead of framing characters in specific lights (jock, comedian, or popular girl) she made sure to show the depth behind each one of her characters. Gennifer, one of the more popular girls at the school, was portrayed as not only popular, but also as someone with a strong work ethic and a high amount of intellect. Andy, a jock, was seen in multiple lenses as well: someone who was both compassionate and a talented athlete. Hattemer broke these typical high school boundaries. She didn’t just limit any one person to just one box, choosing to showcase every character through multiple lenses, reminding readers that it’s okay to be more than just one thing.
Hattemer does the best job of showcasing people through multiple lenses with her lead character, Jemima Kincaid. Not only is Jemima portrayed as both athletic and smart, but her imperfections are also on full display as well. She defies the basic stereotypes associated with the word feminist. While Jemima does occasionally have her moments where she hates all men, Hattemer is able to develop Jemima’s character really well. She is not just the classic “girl power” feminist. Instead, readers can really dive deep into inner conflicts that Jemima has. For example, while most feminists continually spread empowering messages like, “own yourself” and “embrace your own body,” Jemima continually seeks approval from a male love interest. She finds herself obsessing over her appearance and then finds herself questioning if she is truly a feminist since she’s seeking a boy’s approval. Another example of her struggles is when she shames a girl for wearing white jeans. These moments in the novel were really interesting to me because they showed a level of depth to Jemima’s character and added to her relatability. While on the surface, Jemima constantly held her ground and stood up against the patriarchy, inside, it was comforting to see that other outspoken feminists also had their moments of self-doubt and worry. The truth is that most of the time, standing up for something takes a lot of courage and the journey can be paved with hardships. Jemima’s complex character really allowed me to connect with her because it showed that even the most adamant leaders of a movement can struggle, a message that is increasingly important as activism spreads around the world. It’s important to understand that being imperfect is okay and that you don’t have to be perfect to be a leader. Jemima is able to teach that lesson.
I went into this novel thinking that it was a book about someone who hated all men and nothing further. I was definitely wrong because Kate Hattemer works magic with her characters and was able to show off all of their inner complexities within this novel. Ultimately, her writing shows readers that people can be more than one thing and that it’s okay to stumble on the path to becoming a leader. I would recommend this book to any reader.
Featured Image via Penguin Random House