Just Girls discussion questions

Questions for Discussion: Just Girls by Rachel Gold

Here’s a list of questions for classrooms and book groups. Fair warning: there are more spoilers the further you get into the questions.


Ch. 1

How should the admissions department have handled having a trans girl in the dorms? If you were Ella, how would you want them to have handled it?

Ch. 2

What did you think of Tucker coming out as trans even though she isn’t? What would you have done?

Tucker and Ella come from different socioeconomic classes, how does this impact the options that are available to them and what they see as viable choices? What might it be like if their situations were reversed?

Ch. 4

Before the administration will let Tucker move to Ella’s suite, they ask if she’s had “the surgery.” Our culture seems fixated on genitals. Is it ever okay to ask someone about the state of their genitals? Why or why not?

Ch. 5

Getting a team for the Cruel 2B Kind game and then playing the game is one of the ways Ella becomes comfortable on campus. In addition to community, what are other positive effects of playing games? Have you ever had an experience where you could express yourself more fully in a game context? What happened?

Ch. 6

Can the anti-trans elements of the assault on Tucker outside the gym be separated from the anti-woman elements? Why or why not?

Tucker was carrying pepper spray because of growing up as a cis girl – do trans girls have a harder time protecting themselves because they’re not raised with the same kinds of violence? (Note: this is a complex question because some trans girls who come out young are experiencing some or all of the same violence.)

Ch. 7

Ella didn’t want to date when her body didn’t match her gender. She talks about how hard it would be to say “Hey, I know I look like a guy, but I want to go out with you as a girl, okay?” Discuss.

Ch. 8

In the “staying safe” exercise, women and men in the class talk about what they do to keep themselves safe on a day-to-day basis. Did you see any of your experiences reflected here? What would you add if you were in the class?

Is breaking down the idea of safety only along gender lines an over-simplification? How would this exercise have changed if race, class and other dimensions of people’s lives were included?

Selima hands her purse to Cal to demonstrate that misogyny makes it unsafe for men, even gay men, to appear feminine. How are men (both cis and trans) limited by misogyny?

Ch. 9

After a random other student strikes up a conversation with her, Ella talks about the difference between being perceived male and being perceived female. Have you had experiences that helped you understand the difference in our culture? What happened?

Ella is afraid of “the idea that help could turn away …” Sometimes when trans and queer people come out to family and friends, especially at young ages, people pull away. How can you make it clear that you’re supportive your trans and queer friends without pushing them to come out faster than they want to?

Ch. 10

Summer is pretty relentless about trying to ferret out Nico’s gender. How does this represent our culture’s deep discomfort about gender?

In the conversation about genderqueer presentation, Vivien says that “Screwing with the gender binary is something you have to be in a very privileged position to do.” Do you agree or not? Why?

Ch. 12

In the argument with Lindy, on p. 130, Tucker suggests that class differences may be more important in shaping identity than cis or trans status by saying she has more in common with Emily than Lindy. Does our culture tend to weight or notice gendered experiences more heavily than class experiences? Why?

Ch. 13

For some readers, the most remarkable part of the intimate scenes between Ella and Tucker is the communication they have, even as their relationship becomes more emotionally intense. What are some ways we can learn and practice clear communication during highly charged emotional or sexual situations?

Ch. 15

Ella says she’s going to “weaponize girl.” What could that mean?

On p. 167 Shen says he likes “Peace in the real world. Winning in the game worlds.” In her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” author Susan Cain devotes an entire section to introverted and extroverted cultural ideals – demonstrating that the extroverted Western ideal is not the only way to go. Although Shen is very introverted, he is also a strong leader and a great gamer – how do the characters of Shen and Johnny cause readers to question cultural stereotypes and assumptions about what it means to be introverted or extroverted?

Ch. 16

We all wish that Tucker hadn’t gone home with Lindy from the Halloween party, but realistically, what might she have done differently?

Ch. 17

On p. 188 Ella thinks “Shen grew up in China and I grew up in Boy; was it really that different?” What do you want to know about someone’s background when you’re dating them? Does this change depending on how hard it might be for them to tell you? In an intimate relationship, what should stay private?

The author chose to not show us what happened between Tucker and Lindy after the Halloween party but rather to let Tucker tell the reader herself. How does this change your experience as a reader? Did you feel that it distanced you or gave Tucker more voice in the matter, or something else entirely?

Tucker says that the only way to stop Lindy seemed to be to hurt her and she didn’t want to – is it appropriate to use pain or force against someone you care about? How do you know when that is?

Ch. 18-19

Ella asks her sister “What if I can’t have regular sex?” and Amy says, “… there’s no such thing as regular sex.” (p. 211) How hard is it for people having their first sexual experiences to get free from the cultural messages about what is “regular” sex? Why is this important?

Ch. 20

The Kind 2B Cruel game is similar to the Columbia University protest where students carried mattresses around campus as part of an anti-rape protest. (An article about that protest can be found here: http://www.newsweek.com/photos-hundreds-columbia-students-carry-mattresses-sexual-assault-protest-280914.) How effective do you think this kind of protest is? What if anything could have made the Kind 2B Cruel game/protest in the novel more effective?

Ch. 21

What novel did the author borrow Gabe from? Do you like seeing characters from other novels in this one?

Ella says jokingly, “I’m pretty sure Tucker knows more about being a transsexual woman than I do.” (p. 233) Is that possible? How much can cis women understand about trans women’s experience? How much should people try to put themselves into the position of others and how much should they take for granted that there are aspects they can’t understand?

Ch. 22-23

In the final scenes of the novel, we learn more about what has happened to Lindy and what Vivien still believes. How did you react to this? Did you want them to be more sympathetic to Ella and Tucker or would that have felt unrealistic? What do you hope changes for them over the next few years?

[Huge Spoiler Question] At the end of the novel, Ella is with Shen and it looks like there might be the possibility of a relationship between Tucker and Nico. How do you feel about these pairings?

The author has said she writes 90% realistic and 10% fairy tale, do you see that in this novel? How important is optimism in a story like this?