Hullmetal Girls is a standalone YA sci-fi novel.
This was more formulaic than I expected. I thought a story set on a generation fleet that promised queer rep and revolutions wouldn’t feel like the average 2012-era YA dystopian, but it did. I’ve already read this plot at least ten times before; the only things that changed in Hullmetal Girlsare the setting, the technology and the focus on friendship instead of romance, which I really liked.
The queer representation wasn’t great. I say this not because it was bad, but because it was barely there at all and felt like an afterthought.
I have read books with no romance and an all-queer cast that manage to make the characters’ identities more than a label while never making the book about them.
Here? All the representation had no depth, and it’s not that it wasn’t relevant to the plot – I don’t think that’s necessary – it’s that it was never more than a label, and I don’t think “casual queer rep” should look like “everyone 100% passes as allocishet, they just mention they’re queer at some point”.
Let’s talk about Aisha, who is aroace. I’m aromantic, and I was looking forward to the representation, but this felt like tokenism: Aisha mentions being aroace once, and never thinks about it again, never mentions how it affects her, never says how she discovered it, or how she feels about romance (some are repulsed by it! some simply don’t care! some like the idea of it! Not all aros are the same.)
I prefer unlabeled representation to representation that is just the label. At least then you have to make an effort to show it?
Also, I think Praava was meant to be a trans girl, but I don’t remember ever seeing the word “trans” in my copy (why?) and all we know about her is that she has XY chromosomes. But not all women with XY chromosomes are trans – for all I know, she could be intersex with androgen insensitivity syndrome. Vague rep with no depth is no rep at all.
What I liked the most about this book was the technology. It was very unique and also kind of terrifying – YA technology usually doesn’t lend itself to body horror so easily? – and I loved reading about Scela training and exos.
Also, I really liked the scenes about recovery from the surgery. Yes, what happened was almost sci-fi horror, but I never see convalescence and how every step feels like an accomplishment afterward in SFF.
Some of the themes were also interesting: I have already read this story, and I don’t feel like it offers a new angle on the oppressive government vs revolutionaries kind of plot, but the way the book approached the aspects tied to the Scela technology – the themes of agency and friendships – didn’t feel cliché to me.
I like when stories center friendships instead of romance, and even if this book had some flaws, I did end up enjoying it.
My rating: ★★★