“The Girls’ Guide to Conquering Life” by Erica + Jonathan Catherman

Cover of titular bookBook: “The Girls’ Guide to Conquering Life: How to Ace an Interview, Change a Tire, Talk to a Guy, and 97 Other Skills You Need to Thrive” by Erica and Jonathan Catherman
Published by Fleming H. Revell Company on 15th May, 2018
Genres: Non-fiction, Self-help
Format: 304 pages
Rating: 4/5⭐
Source: Revell Reads
Goodreads

Instead of doing the typical copy-paste I do with book descriptions, I’m going to tell you why I requested this book when I saw it. I hesitated briefly before requesting it. I thought,

It’s probably not for 27-year-olds struggling to navigate adulthood because their moms neglected them and stepfathers abused them.

But I also thought,

This might be the closest thing I get to a “super useful self-help life skills” resource.

Because—and I’m so pulling the autistic card here—I’m autistic.

I try not to go into books with high expectations, because that’s a great way to set up a road for disappointment.

And while I’m not one for self-help books, the life skills category is one I frequent—because I don’t get it, because no one taught me anything I needed to survive, because my guardians infantilized me and then ridiculed me because I couldn’t do anything. My guardians didn’t teach me life skills beyond how “sorry” loses its meaning after someone keeps saying it every time they do that bad thing.

The plaque before Chapter 1 reads:

I’m strong because I’m fearless.

I’m fearless because I’m confident.

I’m confident because I’m capable of doing what is required of me and what inspires me.

My knowledge, my talents, my strengths are all practiced, and practice makes me better.

Better at being myself, better at being kind to all, and better at helping others become strong too.

I LIKE IT. They’ve got gold for swag already.

Overall thoughts

This self-help book isn’t one to read in sitting, but more like a guide you pick up to use when you need to know how to do something and can’t be bothered with Google.

I think some parts of it are a bit ableist and culturally-specific, e.g. eye contact being suggested so hard when

  1. it’s nothing more than an expectation created by people who don’t understand that eye contact equates not to listening, and
  2. it’s quite rude in some cultures to make eye contact.

It’s one of those things that probably come across as of minimal importance or trivial to take issue with, but I’m autistic so I notice these things and the dependence on it by non-autistic people.

It is a good, helpful book that fills in the gaps created by society (a mix of parental figures and the education system) to help people where they need it.

Notice I said people, too: just because “Girls” is in the title doesn’t mean this book wouldn’t potentially be relevant to people of whatever other gender, too.

Some of the skills (e.g. brushing your teeth, washing your hair, etc.) were things you should just…know how to do, no explanation needed, because you learned at a young age. But again, there are gaps that the people who do put forth the effort and time to fill in are being judged for.

And I’m not judging. I learned how to shave and eat “healthy” from Seventeen magazine. In theory, it sounds like, “Oh, a magazine taught you these things!” but the bigger picture is that I was in middle school and their “healthy” eating tips were actually “Skinny Eating 101”: Apple fries and nuts replaced a hamburger meal from McDonald’s.


Anyway, overall I found this book full of helpful tips. It’s good. I rated it 4/5, however, because I’m really not into the ableist narrative, especially when it’s all opinion-based. Again, it probably seems like a really petty/trivial thing if you don’t understand where I’m coming from, but the assumptions made around people who don’t make eye contact, like it’s something to fix, feels like an indirect approach to training people with neurological differences to fit into society’s version of normal.

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Jamie’s gravatar

Wow that line from before chapter 1 already sold me on reading this book. Self help always sounds so odd, but the few that I’ve read I really enjoyed and it’s a genre of books I’ve been wanting to read more, a lot just seem to fall victim to empty pep talk and not bring anything actually new or insightful to the book.

I agree with your commentary on eye contact, it’s not nit picky. You are absolutely right that it’s rude in some cultures, and then for someone like me that’s an abuse survivor well.. I’m confident now and am not scared of people, but making and maintaining eye contact to this day is extremely difficult for me, even when I’m talking to someone that I love and trust fully. I try hard to be conscious of it, but it’s one of those things that I’ll probably never be able to break. It’s been pointed out to me several times in the past and it’s a thing that I’m very self conscious about, even though I can maintain a respectful conversation without it. Definitely one of my least favorite expectations / pieces of advice that I see often.

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Kassy’s gravatar

Awesome! I love the sound of the book and I am so glad that it is a helpful guide for you. It’s something I might have to check out myself! 🙂

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