Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting it Done by Andrea Gonzales & Sophie Houser


I love memoirs. Seeing life paths, decisions and making a book-friendship by the end always leaves me feeling empowered as I carry these stories with me. Bringing to mind Randy Glasbergen's comic - the power of books as a way for people to "install new software into their brains" - Girl Code has my neurons firing from end to end.

Reading Andrea (Andy) and Sophie's story has me feeling all the typical memoir feelings a million times over. I wish I could go back and give this book to every young woman I've taught. I wish I could go back and teach this book each year. I wish I could be like Sweden and send a book to every 16-year-old student because I would send this one. There are so many important issues to tackle in our world, and this book highlights one corner of how we can do so.

While attending a Girls Who Code intensive, Andy and Sophie met and worked on their final project together. That project just happened to be the viral sensation Tampon Run. With coverage from Teen Vogue to the Today Show, they struck a nerve with people of all ages. Their book Girl Code takes you from just before they begin their summer coding intensive, sharing brief intros of themselves and their family and how they ended up at the intensive. They then weave the reader through their first lines of code, the successes and frustrations of learning their new skills, perks of the 'tech life' and collaborating with different partners and mentors. After presenting the game at their Girls Who Code graduation, they continued and launched the game online. The rest of the book is the 'after launch' story - the best and worst of the game getting so much attention, some great opportunities they've had subsequently and where they're headed as of now. Their story is such an inspiration for girls everywhere. It is so powerful to have this on the shelves in a bookstore -- representation matters. And we certainly need it in tech.

I was particularly struck with one of Sophie's reflections early on as she writes about when she first arrives to Girls Who Code, and takes in the all-female environment.
"As I stood there scanning the group, I realized that I had never once imagined a coder as a girl. I'm embarrassed to admit it now, but until that moment, my mental image of a coder was a young guy in a ratty Star Wars T-shirt and sweat-pants hunched over a large desktop int he corner of a room, headphones atop a greasy head of hair. I wondered why I had never pictured a girl... probably because I'd never seen a female coder before. I'd seen pictures of the founders of Google and Facebook and other major tech companies, but they were all men. I had watched movies and TV shows that depicted hackers, but they had all been men too." (25)

Andy and Sophie show us what happens when females are at the table. Their common bond being forged over feminist and socially minded action in their final project - turned into a game highlighting a social taboo  (periods! oh no!) and our de-sensitization to violence (killing in most video games with blood spatter, no problem! but periods? Step back now!). And this is just one project. Imagine the creativity that will continue to when we truly have both halves of the sky.

There are so many impressive, wonderful, and insightful things about this book. But I'm going to stop and let you read it and form your book friendships and girlcrushes. Because in the end, the power of books is in sharing your story so it can bring us all a little closer together. And I am so glad that Andy and Sophie have shared theirs!

(P.S. Take a few minutes to play Tampon Run, if there were more games like this, heck, I might be a gamer!)

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