Whilst I started this book in 2018, this was the first I completed this side of the new year. It was one of a bundle I picked up from the library ahead of my Christmas break; one of my favourite times of year to hide away and curl up with lots of books.
It’s also going to be the first book I review. Up until now I’ve only rated the books I’ve read, using my highly sophisticated smiley face scale, ranging from the disappointing (☺ = naw) through to the desirable (☺☺☺☺☺= braw) but encouraged by my friend Sarah of Dance, Dance, Ramble, Ramble and the #DDRRreadingchallenge I’m going to try and get in the habit of giving a proper review.
So with the introduction over, here we go:
Dawn O’Porter | Published 2017 | ☺☺☺☺
COW n. /ka?/ A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd. Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.
The line above is the introduction to the book and describes the situation the characters (and of course many women in real life) find themselves in, just being “one of the herd” or in the case of one character, wanting to feel part of the herd.
Faced with various female stereotypes (piece of meat; born to breed etc) Cam, Tara and Stella, the three women the book focuses on, are fighting a dual battle. To differing degrees, all three have an external fight, dealing with how others see them, often struggling with the perception others have whilst also facing an internal challenge, trying to understand themselves better, getting to know who they really are and what that really means.
Whilst all three characters have very different lives and life experiences to me, I was easily able to relate to certain aspects of all their lives. Like Cam I blog, ok I don’t have a sponsorship deal with L'Oréal(!) but online and in real life I openly share my views on various topics and I recognise some of the reactions to those views in her story. I’ve had the eye rolls, those who believe I just say things to hide some deeper angst and those who just think it’s for show and really not what most women (real women??) think/say/feel. I understand the frustration but unlike me Cam is ardently confident about who she is and the life she has created for herself. We rarely see self-doubt (although it is there at times). She is a woman who lives with purpose and determination.
Tara on the other hand has a number of significant life events happen by pure accident or at least unplanned or out of her control. How she deals with each of them is what makes her most interesting. She is also a strong, career-driven woman but unlike Cam she has a lot more self-doubt, which usually manifests itself in worry or anger about how she is seen by others, her colleagues, other parents at the school, her parents. (If you haven’t guessed it, this self-doubt and what “everybody else” thinks" is the part about Tara I most relate to!). She has a lot to contend with in her story, she doesn’t always get it right (who does?) but she learns a lot about herself and those around her, what and who really matters and ultimately who she really is and what it is that makes her happy……sound like a familiar journey??
Finally there is Stella. Now, if you read the book I want to make it clear but without giving any spoilers away that I do not relate to her through her master plan, that approach definitely is not something I've experienced! Nor do I have any kind of similar background story. Stella has suffered a lot and has not had the support she needs to deal with it in a healthy manner or perhaps she has but hasn’t been ready to take that help. It can be difficult to tell that in the book but whatever the truth, we find Stella unable to take much more and desperate to find some kind of direction and meaning for her life. For her she has lost her role and desperately needs to find herself a new one. She clings to the stereotypes some others are fiercely fleeing from and believes she will find comfort in the herd and will go to extraordinary lengths to claim her place there.
In all we have one woman owning her role, creating and carefully curating how she is seen, another who is battling against other people’s perception and her own internal guilt, and another who is longing to fit into a desired role, who feels empty without one, lost and generally “not enough”.
The three stories are in many ways the same story or perhaps you could see it as women in different places on the same journey many of us go through. Not necessarily in such dramatic fashion as our three protagonists perhaps but understanding who we are, fighting against misconceptions and needing to feel accepted and understood are common to us all surely.
The book is about life including all the messy parts so it’s as true to say it’s funny, warm, hopeful and reassuring as it is to say it’s sad and sometimes shocking.
I enjoyed the stories and characters who told them. It touches on a lot of sensitive parts of life, loss, grief, shame, anxiety, fear, and whilst yes it has made me quite reflective on my own life and who I am, I would encourage others to know that whilst these characters are not “filtered” as so much is these days and their stories are not sugar coated, it is, overall a positive story, they are strong and they are real and they give you the reader hope and remind us that we all have our struggles, we are not all what we may seem on the surface and most importantly we can all help others and ourselves step out of the herd and be who we are.