Book Review: “This is What it Feels Like” by Rebecca Barrow

This is What it Feels Like is the first YA contemporary I have read in a long, long time. There were no magic, monsters, or interstellar travel — just girls growing up, hurting each other and healing each other as they transitioned into adulthood. I was hurt and healed alongside them, and it was wonderful.

Our story centers Dia, a teen mom, as well as Jules, an out lesbian, and finally Hanna, a former alcoholic. All three used to be best friends and had a band together, but broke apart. They have just graduated high school when they receive the news that there is a big musical contest in their town with a cash prize of fifteen thousand dollars. What follows is Dia, Jules, and Hanna getting back together to win the contest, and how they reconcile and grow with each other.

This book manages to tackle so many tough topics while remaining infused with so much joy. Dia is dealing with the trauma of the death of her boyfriend, Elliot, and is at a loss for how to move on while also raising her two year old daughter. Jules is trying to understand what constitutes a healthy relationship after leaving a toxic one. And Hanna is struggling to find her identity after the losses of the band, her friends, and giving up alcohol. This could have been a very serious book, but instead it manages to give each of these subjects its due without either diminishing their importance or letting them take over the narrative.

One thing that I really loved about This is What it Feels Like is how romance doesn’t dominate the narrative. Both Dia and Jules’ arcs feature a romance, but relationships aren’t what spur either of these girls to grow as people — it’s their own will and their own drive that causes the change. All of the recovery that they and Hanna go through feels hugely well-earned. The characters all felt very real, well-crafted, and well-developed, and I loved the journey that each of the girls went through. The focus of the book is definitely on their collective friendship, and how this friendship and the contest spurs each of them to get out of their respective ruts and into their adult lives.

Overall, if you’re looking for a book with a focus on female friendship, about young women growing and changing and becoming better together, I cannot recommend This is What it Feels Like enough. Go read it. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read an excerpt of This is What it Feels Like for free at

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