About the Book
Girls Like Me opens with sixteen-year-old, queer identified Banjo Logan waking up in a juvenile mental ward, groggy and fearing for the life of her unborn child. Banjo is unsure if she wants to raise her baby or give her up for adoption. Soon after waking up she is ushered out of her room and into the day room PRU, a strange and slightly manic girl, who we later find out is trans, approaches Banjo and manages to prod her out of her self-inflicted silence. Pru was born in Ethiopia, but was adopted as a preschooler by rich, white parents who never let Pru forget how they “rescued” her. Pru confesses to Banjo that she is also queer. So begins Banjo’s journey of healing and remembrance of the wonderful and terrible day she got pregnant.
For Readers and Book Clubs:
GIrls Like Me Reading Guide
“It’s not just that I ‘couldn’t put it down’ and that I felt I was physically there with Banjo and her friends every minute of their journey through adolescence, their search for their identity and their increasing awareness of themselves and the world, but also that this story is ‘singing my song’ of girls like us who have or will traverse a similar journey and who desperately need this book. Stunningly important.” — Katherine Arnoldi, author, The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom and All Things Are Labor
“Nina Packebush is the real deal. Like an alchemist, she uses stark and poetic prose to transmute grief and hard luck into pure golden magic. Honest, lyrical, and as in love with the ugly as the beautiful, Packebush’s hotly-anticipated debut novel is sure to become an instant classic.” — Ariel Gore, author of eight books including Breeder and The End of Eve, and publisher of Hip Mama Magazine
“From page one, Girls Like Me is a novel that grips onto your mind and heart and won’t let go. Nina Packebush has created a world equal parts tragedy and magic that illuminates what it’s like to be a queer teen searching for love and belonging on the margins of heteronormative society. Through the unfolding of Banjo’s story, Packebush humanizes the struggles that queer and gender non-conforming youth face—very real and understandable struggles that are often wrongly pathologized in our mental health system as ‘illness.’ Packebush also does not shy away from traditionally taboo topics such as self-harm and suicide, creating a much-needed opportunity for youth to explore subjects that are so rarely discussed with honesty. Her stories also poignantly illustrate how our deepest healing happens in relationships with those we love and trust. This is a book that I dearly wish I had been around when I was a disaffected teen struggling with suicide and mental health issues.” — Leah Harris, poet, storyteller, and intersectional activist
“Nina Packebush’s Girls Like Me makes visible an invisible, necessary story—that of a pregnant teen wrestling with gender, grief, desire, and transformation. Packebush’s narrator Banjo is utterly real and refreshingly complex. We are compelled to stick with her as she and her quirky cast of misfit friends navigate the terrain of queer adolescence with humor and grit. An essential book for this generation of young adults.” — Jacks McNamara, co-founder of the Icarus Project and author of Inbetweenland
I WOKE UP on a cot-sized bed in a small room that smelled of disinfectant and pee. The sagging bed across from mine was stripped and empty. Dingy blue curtains with ridiculous white flowers hung limp over a window. The curtains tried their best to hide the bars on the window and somehow make the room cheery, but they failed miserably. Memories of how I got here kept surfacing. I tried to pull the soft blanket of denial over my brain, but the blanket that I had stitched to drown out my reality kept slipping off and panic would slam into me like gusts of a cold wind.
I lay on the bed for a long time, both trying to remember how I got here, and then trying to forget how I got here.
A nurse pushed through my door without knocking. She carried a plastic bag labeled Personal Belongings in one hand and balanced a tray with thick oatmeal, a carton of milk, a box of apple juice, and a tiny packet of white sugar with the other.
“Time to get up.” She adjusted her too-tight pink scrubs as she bent to set down the tray on the small table between my bed and the empty one next to it. “We let you sleep in this morning, but after today you’ll need to be up and at breakfast by eight. I’m nurse Lyndsay and you’ll be seeing me on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.” She sounded as if she were reading from a script. Her mousy blond hair hung in a thin braid that flapped around each time she turned her head.
“This will be the last meal you take in your room. After this you will eat in the dining room with the other patients. We’ll issue you a toothbrush and other necessary toiletries this afternoon. If you’re in need of any feminine hygiene products, you may request them at the nurse’s station.” Flip went her braid.
Feminine hygiene products? I put my hand on my melon belly and rolled my eyes at her.
She raised one eyebrow as she glanced at my belly and then looked up at me. Neither of us spoke a word, but that moment of silent communication told me everything I needed to know about this place. She dropped the bag at the foot of the bed and was gone.
The lumpy oatmeal got stuck in my throat, but I forced myself to eat it—for the kid. I drank down the juice box like a deprived preschooler and fell back onto the bed.
The nurse returned. “Why aren’t you dressed? You need to get dressed and go to the day room. Your sleeping rooms are off limits during the day and don’t go trying to sneak back in. Understand?”
I stared at her. She turned and disappeared down the hall again.
I opened the bag and pulled out the clothes that I had been wearing yesterday when Mom abandoned me here. My Doc Martens and belt were missing, probably because they thought I would hang myself with my shoelaces or strangle myself with my belt. The thing was I wore all my clothes loose so my cargo pants didn’t stay up without a belt and with my belly getting bigger they really didn’t stay on without a belt tight around my hips.
I tugged on my brown cargos, considered the threadbare sports bra, and decided I had better wear it. My boobs had gone from kumquats to grapefruits almost overnight. I fished out the stained My Gay Banjo concert shirt that Mom had given me last Christmas saying, How could I not? You are my gay Banjo after all. I suppose this shirt erased any chance of me staying closeted in this rat hole. I ran my fingers through my choppy hair, took a deep breath, and headed out into the “ward” with my shoulders slumped and my feet not quite wanting to work right. I wondered if that was because of the shot they gave me.
Thinking about the shot caused fear to tear through my body. My baby. They shot me full of drugs and what if it hurt my baby? What if it killed my baby? What if the baby was dead inside of me right now? When that panic hit I knew that I loved the baby and I felt closer to actually keeping her. But what if she was already dead like her other parent? Or maybe the baby’s brain was being turned into soup. Being a sixteen-year-old queer mama with a dead girl/boyfriend was pretty rad, but it would be even more fantastic if I had a messed-up kid to add to that mix of such a promising future.
I stumbled into the day room looking like a real live crazy person with my pants falling off my hips and my feet shuffling like an old lady. I felt groggy. The day room welcomed me with an aroma of yeasty feet and underarms. The room was large with tables here and there for playing cards or doing puzzles. The puzzles and games were stacked unevenly on a tall shelf bolted to the wall. There were a few ragged couches, an old-school TV mounted high up on one corner, and bright colored rugs on the floor to try to distract from the dingy blue walls and mismatched furniture.
The nurse informed me that they were setting up an appointment with the psychiatrist and I would be seeing him or her by the end of the day. “Art therapy is in an hour, lunch at noon, group therapy at two, dinner is at six. All are required. Until then you’re free to do as you please.”
Of course that was ridiculous because if that were true I would be at home or at the very least back in my “sleeping room” crashed out. Freedom was a matter of circumstance, I supposed.