Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: More Non-Fiction Comics

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these comics by clicking here.

This is the last of the batch!!! I’ll be posting my picks for Top Ten next week… what would yours be?

Also: HAPPY 3RD ANNIVERSARY, Crunchings & Munchings! Rebecca registered us on WordPress 3 years ago.

masterful-marks

Masterful Marks. Cartoonists Who Changed the World – 16 Graphic Biographies

Monte Beauchamp, editor

Simon & Schuster

Anticipation/expectation level: Picking up the book and flipping through it made me anticipate the act of reading it, because of the wonderful variety of drawing styles, many of them in the style of the artist that they are profiling. But an email discussion about the book pointed out some issues that I hoped wouldn’t be so prominent (spoiler alert: they were).

My Reality: Beauchamp has selected 16 figures who he thinks influenced comics history. The biographies are drawn by a wide range of artists and written by Beauchamp and others. I’m going to quote the publisher’s copy about the book to give you a better idea of the idea:

In a first-of-its-kind collection, award-winning illustrators celebrate the lives of the visionary artists who created the world of comic art and altered pop culture forever.

Sixteen Graphic Novel Biographies of:
• Walt Disney • Dr. Seuss • Charles Schulz • The Creators of Superman • R. Crumb • Jack Kirby • Winsor McCay • Hergé • Osamu Tezuka • MAD creator, Harvey Kurtzman • Al Hirschfeld • Edward Gorey • Chas Addams • Rodolphe Töpffer • Lynd Ward • Hugh Hefner

The story of cartoons—the multibillion-dollar industry that has affected all corners of our culture, from high to low—is ultimately the story of the visionary icons who pioneered the form.
But no one has told the story of comic art in its own medium—until now.

In Masterful Marks, top illustrators—including Drew Friedman, Nora Krug, Denis Kitchen, and Peter Kuper—reveal how sixteen visionary cartoonists overcame massive financial, political, and personal challenges to create a new form of art that now defines our world.

So, according to that, these are the figures that created comics – obviously not true. This is also not the first book that tells comics history in the comics form – there’s the Comic Book History of Comics,  comicbookhistorywhich is longer and more expansive, and might even include women! Actually, I’m not sure about that. But Masterful Marks definitely does not include women. It does manage to include Hugh Hefner, who was an amateur cartoonist and a publisher of comics artist. But it does not not an actual woman who creates comics or publishes comics. No Francoise Mouly. No Lynda Barry or Trina Robbins or Alison Bechdel or Tove Jansson or Jackie Ormes. Masterful Marks is narrowly focused because its editor is narrowly focused.

The comics themselves are lovely. But they are short. There is a lot of information to get into 16 pages or whatever, and so many of them have panels that are too crowded with narration, or panels that just have the biographical figure listing facts about themselves with no arc to the comic. The Walt Disney comic is just 2 anthropomorphic animals roaming the countryside – there is no point to that one being a comic at all.

Some of them are really great! Drew Friedman draws a personal story about how he knows Harvey Kurtzman, and because it has a personal connection that frames the story, it works. It doesn’t try to encompass the man’s entire life.

But not enough of them are great to make this book work. I would love to see full length, even 48 page comic biographies using this conceit, but the collection isn’t coherent enough to be even a rough history of comics, and the comics themselves are hamstrung by the length limitation.

Will teens like it?: I can see teens missing out on a lot of information trying to use this as a resource for a paper.

Is it “great” for teens?: No.

Art Taste:

masterful-marks-rcrumb

masterful-marks-addams

09-Shuster

dreamless dead

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics.

Chris Duffy, editor

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: Chris Duffy puts together some really excellent collections of comics adaptations of prose works for First Second, so I figured this had a good chance of being great.

My Reality: The poems and the art in this collection work so, so well together, better than I ever thought they would. The panels of the comics let the reader slow down and not rush through the poetry. It’s a treat to see how each artist tackles and interprets the pieces they have chosen/are assigned. Above the Dreamless Dead is a wonderful book to think about history, visual literacy, and poetry. And a great companion to read with Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood! The artists include Luke Pearson, Eddie Campbell, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff and Hannah Berry, among others.

Will teens like it?: They’d be lucky to come across this book.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

dreamlessdead1 dreamlessdead2 dreamlessdead3 dreamlessdead4

MADISON-SQ-TRAGEDYcover

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder:  Madison Square Tragedy – The Murder of Stanford White  

Rick Geary, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/expectation level: I like Rick Geary’s historical murder books. They are usually well-researched, with a well-balanced structure of plot, art, and historical context/facts.

My Reality: I was especially interested to read this because of the Pittsburgh connection – the murderer was Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh. As this book shows, he was a real jerk and suffered from a combination of mental illness and wealth that allowed him to shoot a man in the face, beat and emotionally abuse his wife, and feel like it was his right to do so, and suffer barely any consequences for it. Stanford White sounds like a creep, too, but that doesn’t mean he should have been shot in the face. And poor Evelyn Nesbit. This is really her story, and it’s not a happy one.

I think a good comic book about history gives a full story and makes the reader want to dive more into the subject, and Madison Square Tragedy had exactly that effect on me. I closed the book and started looking up Thaw’s home in Pittsburgh, hoping it was still standing (it’s not – but the carriage house was on the market for over a million dollars a couple years back, and that’s a Pittsburgh valuation, which means it would sell for much more in any other city). I did find articles about Thaw’s home and his trial in the New York Times database, and they were fascinating. And I want to know more about Evelyn.

Will teens like it?: I always wonder if the “old timey” stylization of Geary’s art is a barrier for teens – I think that teens who are into true crime stories could get past it, but I don’t think these books, however worthy, are ever going to be shelf-jumpers in the teen section (I just made that term up).

Is it “great” for teens?: I still think it’s great.

Art Taste:

gearypreview

strangefruit

Strange Fruit – Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

Joel Christian Gill, writer and artist

Fulcrum Publishing

Anticipation/expectation level: The title certainly got me interested!

My Reality: As Gill’s first collection of comics, it shows a progression from competent to assured – you can see him relying on a similar format for story and panels for the first couple stories, then starting to branch out and become more comfortable with using his writing with his art. Consequently, the book gets more powerful as it goes along. Gill starts out with Henry “Box” Brown – the slave who shipped himself to freedom. That is the most well-known of Gill’s subjects – as promised, these are heretofore uncelebrated narratives in Black history, and I love that he has found them and started the celebration.

Will teens like it?: Yes, especially teens looking for subjects for their Black History Month projects.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

strangefruit41

colonial comics

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750

Jason Rodriguez, editor

Fulcrum Publishing

I’m still on hold for this, wah waaah. The cover has such lovely colors!

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An Edinburgh Reading List

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

by Tessa

If you are reading this the day it is being posted, then know that R & I are, as your eyes scan these words, fulfilling a friendship-long dream of visiting Scotland together, and celebrating her birthday along the way as well! (Happy future birthday, R!!)

In preparation for the trip I made myself a reading list of books set in Edinburgh. Of course, I only managed to read a couple of them, but I do plan to go back and finish the others someday.  Maybe you also have a Scottish-themed reading itch to scratch?  If so, I submit these titles for your perusal.

DISCLAIMER:

My method for finding them was a subject search in my library catalog so this is by no means a be-all, end-all list of Edinburgh fiction.  And it is not YA-specific.

BOOKS I DID READ:

gooseberry

The Gooseberry / Odd Girl Out by Joan Lingard

This is the only YA book on my list, and the only one that doesn’t have to do with romance or murder. Just a solid coming-of-age story. Poor old Gooseberry Ellie is true to herself even though she doesn’t really know what that means just yet, and her mom has to go and marry some boring old guy who sells insurance and lives in a bungalow, taking E. away from her street and her friends and her father figure, an old Czech pianist who is giving her lessons.

knotsandcrosses

Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus #1) by Ian Rankin

I felt obligated to read at least one Ian Rankin book before I went to Edinburgh (again). This is the first in his series about a hard-drinking Detective Inspector working in that city.  My Goodreads notes were thus: “I am left wondering what drug has a toffee apple smell. Spell it out for us squares, Rankin!  Also, I want to note that I figured it out on p. 150 and Rebus did on p. 200. But I was struggling with much less emotional baggage than he.”

Instead of reading more of these, I opted to watch the first season of Rebus and it was enjoyable, but I think Prime Suspect may have spoiled most other UK crime shows for me.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch more, though.

lamplighter

The Lamplighter by Anthony O’Neill

A serendipitous find for me – I had to weed it from my library’s fiction collection due space and circulation issues 😥 , but ended up reading it, :D.

It’s a delicate story combining historical fiction, detection, metaphysics, the devil, fear, secret societies, gruesome murder, and religious conspiracy. Something for everyone.

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Boswell In Search of a Wife, 1766-69 by James Boswell

If you’re into history and diaries and affable cads, do yourself a favor and visit the diaries of James Boswell. At least read this Smithsonian article about him (but, spoiler alert, not if you want to keep the romantic notions of a happy marriage brought on by this section of diaries intact).

Boswell is quite famous for chronicling his life (and Sam Johnston’s life) through diaries. And here Yale collects his diaries, letters and other correspondence to show his feverish attachments and pursuits of various ladies in an attempt to find a wife / soothe his libido. This is also the period where he’s establishing himself as a lawyer via the Douglas case and being obsessed with the Corsicans. Any time one reads of Boswell one hears of his need for strong father figures, as if to replace his fractious relationship to his own father, and this is borne out in watching him through his letters. He is devoted to General Paoli of Corsica. When he is in London to cure his venereal disease before marrying he repeatedly moves apartments to be closer to various powerful friends as if to soak up their approbation and aura of power.

He’s witty and as truthful as he can be in representing his whims. It’s enchanting to be put into the times and watch him ordering post-chaises to take him around town, worrying about the entailment of the estate of Auchinleck (which can now be rented out for a holiday, true story) and fretting about the hot and cold reactions of an heiress he’s courting while at the same time he is supporting a married mistress who has bore him a daughter, getting drunk and sleeping with whores (and getting infected with who knows what), and fielding letters from his lady-love in Amsterdam (an author herself!).

Boswell never loses hope for the power of true love, even as he realizes he is usually in the throes of fickle lust, and even as he sabotages his own intentions for a strong relationship by getting drunk and sleeping with other women. He has feverish periods of happiness and low periods of melancholy.  Here are just a few examples from his own mouth:

28 APRIL 1766: “I write to you while the delirium is really existing. In short, Sir, the gardener’s daughter who was named for my mother, and has for some time been in the family as a chambermaid is so very pretty that I am entirely captivated by her. Besides my principle of never debauching an innocent girl, my regard for her father, a worthy man of uncommon abilities, retrains me from forming the least licentious thought against her. And, therefore, in plain words, I am mad enough to indulge imaginations of marrying her. …I rave about her. I was never so much in love as I am now. My fancy is quite inflamed. It riots in extravagance.”

17 MAY 1766. “…my love for the handsome chambermaid is already like a dream that is past.”

19 JANUARY 1768: “I was so happy with Jeany Kinnaird that I very philosophically reasoned that there was to me so much virtue mixed with licentious love that perhaps I might be privilege. For it made me humane, polite, generous. But then lawful love with a woman I really like would make me still better.”

“THURSDAY 15 JUNE [1769]. Mrs. Fullarton and her son, Snady Tait, Drs. Gregory and Austin, and Willy Wallace dined with us. I was not well, and in very bad spirits. At such times all the varnish of life is off, and I see it as it really is. Or why not may it be that there is a shade thrown over it which is merely ideal darkness? All my comfort was piety, my friends, and my lady.”

BOOKS I STILL WANT TO READ:

edinburghcityofthedead   townbelowground

Edinburgh: City of the Dead and The Town Below the Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson

Goodreads sez: “Edinburgh: City of the Dead explores macabre events, paranormal occurrences, haunted locations, occult societies, witchcraft, and even spooky hoaxes to try to discover why Edinburgh is a city that appears to have more than its fair share of supernatural goings-on. Jan-Andrew Henderson brings each tale to life through realistic dramatic reconstructions. By focusing on the scariest incident in each and fleshing out the characters and dialogue, the author adds a terrifying extra dimension to some of the most gory and ghoulish stories imaginable.”

and: “The story of the Town Below the Ground is one of the most disturbing in the annals of Scottish history.” Do tell.

*brrrr*

mrsrobinsonsdisgrace

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

A woman is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband finds her diary, misinterprets it, and files for divorce (UNHEARD OF). The diary is read in court! ! !  Possibly sort of based on a true story?? More info at Brain Pickings.

bodypolitic

The Body Politic by Paul Johnston

According to the header on his site, Paul Johnston is a “crime writer AND poet” (emphasis mine) so really how could this series go wrong?  This book is actually the first in a series featuring a guy (presumably detective) named Quint Dalrymple–again, that name is a really good sign for the book–set in 2020 in what is known as Enlightenment Edinburgh.

As Google Books explains: “The Council’s goal of a “perfect” city-where television, private cars, and popular music are banned, and where crime is virtually nonexistent-is shattered when a brutal serial killer is discovered among their ranks. Can the fearsome Ear, Nose and Throat Man be back to his grisly old tricks? The usually complacent Council is forced to turn to the man they demoted years ago-the irreverent, blues-haunted Quintilian Dalrymple-to catch the gruesome killer.”

anatomymurders

The Anatomy Murders, Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner

The title about says it all, but here’s the description from the book’s webpage:

“On Halloween night 1828, in the West Port district of Edinburgh, Scotland, a woman sometimes known as Madgy Docherty was last seen in the company of William Burke and William Hare. Days later, police discovered her remains in the surgery of the prominent anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Docherty was the final victim of the most atrocious murder spree of the century, outflanking even Jack the Ripper’s. Together with their accomplices, Burke and Hare would be accused of killing sixteen people over the course of twelve months in order to sell the corpses as “subjects” for dissection. The ensuing criminal investigation into the “Anatomy Murders” raised troubling questions about the common practices by which medical men obtained cadavers, the lives of the poor in Edinburgh’s back alleys, and the ability of the police to protect the public from cold-blooded murder.”

There are also 2 movies about Burke and Hare.  This is the one I plan to watch, because Simon Pegg:

burkeandhare

onegoodturn

One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2) by Kate Atkinson

“Two years after the events of Case Histories left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam – the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage – a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson’s orbit.”Goodreads

wintersea

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

This could be a (great) time travel romance…

“In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth.” – Author Description

troublewithmagic

The Trouble with Magic (Magic #3) by Patricia Rice

There is no way I could improve on this hook:

“Felicity Malcolm Childe’s gift for experiencing visions through touch has always felt more like a curse than a blessing, so she covers herself from head to toe. Only the maddeningly handsome Ewen Ives provokes tingles of pleasure rather than pain, but he is already betrothed. Her last hope is to go to Scotland to find the ancient book of spells that could free her from the burden of this gift.”

singerofsouls

Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple

SF Reviews dot net says it’s a “short and surprisingly grisly urban fantasy” about a guy who comes to Edinburgh to live with his Grandma, busk, and escape his life of drugs in Minneapolis.  When the Fringe Festival starts he realizes he can see the terrifying fey folk.

Count me in.

Panther Baby, slip some radical literature under the tree, for me.

pantherbaby

Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion & Reinvention

Jamal Joseph

Algonquin Books, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters

Jamal Joseph –
Cuban-American orphan growing up in late 60s NYC with revolution in his family tree (though he doesn’t know it)

Noonie Baltimore –

The strong-willed woman who ends up raising Jamal and showing him love, discipline, and self-respect

The Panther 21 –

Black Panther members from NYC who are arrested in 1969 on trumped-up charges of conspiracy and kept in jail without bail.

Hook

Worldview

Jamal Joseph was born out of wedlock to a Cuban woman who decided to move to New York City and get an education. To do this, she gave Jamal (then called Eddie) up for foster care.  His foster parents got sick, and Jamal was then raised by Noonie and Pa Baltimore. Noonie was the housekeeper for Jamal’s foster parents. They made sure he went to school, respected his elders, and in Pa Baltimore’s case, learned a bunch of fun swear words from cursing out the TV news.

Jamal is very aware of the political situation in the US as far as the fight for civil rights is concerned. So when Martin Luther King Jr is assassinated, he goes out to the streets to protest. Shop windows are broken and the police show up, indiscriminately chasing anyone around, shooting at them, and claiming they’re “looters”. Jamal is running from the police for this reason when he runs into a phalanx of 20 or so men in fatigues and berets, calmly walking the streets. They surround him and tell the policemen that they’re exercising their constitutional right to free assembly. The police leave them alone. Then they tell Jamal to run home so he doesn’t get killed. These are the Black Panthers. Jamal, duly impressed, goes to a meeting as soon as he can. He’s 15 years old.

By the time he’s 16 he’s risen in the ranks of the Panthers, spoken out at school against the way that history is being taught, and clashed with Noonie about his new, radical afterschool activities. Then he becomes part of the Panther 21 – accused of planning to bomb buildings.  Sure, he was taught to clean and put together an M-16, but the conspiracy charges are simply not true.  It doesn’t matter. He’s in jail.

And that’s just the beginning of Jamal Joseph’s journey.

Jamal Joseph speaking about the Black Panther 21 case on the green at the University of Vermont - Burlington, Vermont - 1971 photograph by Roz Payne http://www.newsreel.us/panthers/index.htm

Jamal Joseph speaking about the Black Panther 21 case on the green at the University of Vermont – Burlington, Vermont – 1971 photograph by Roz Payne http://www.newsreel.us/panthers/index.htm

What is the book’s intention and is it achieved?

Panther Baby is Jamal Joseph’s story, told from his point of view and with his biases, and that’s how I like it. It leaves the door wide open for further reading about the Black Panthers and the even more militant Black Liberation Army that Joseph was a part of later, in the 70s/80s.

Joseph doesn’t try to hide the parts of being a radical that weren’t so great, but he doesn’t apologize for his politics either, and that’s admirable. He shows the good he did, the prejudice he was up against, and the benefit of having pride and taking power back from a society that tried its hardest not to allow certain people to have any.

Much of Joseph’s story is about navigating codes and roles. He talks about being a man and what that means, which is different from being a black man, which is different from the variations on being a black man representing toughness on the streets. And then he goes into the codes of behavior in prison, and how he successfully and unsuccessfully tries to navigate that world without using violence and without being taken advantage of.

Apart from being a thrilling life story, there’s a lot here to think about and discuss. His personality shines through, and I can guess that even now Joseph hasn’t given up the thought-provoking life.  He’s a questioner and he’s an activist.

Unlike many memoirs, Panther Baby doesn’t waste time dithering around. Joseph cuts to the chase and his story packs a punch. To mix metaphors. I could even see a reader wanting more.

Readalikes

rockandriver

The Rock and the River / Kekla Magoon

The Time: 1968 The Place: Chicago  For thirteen-year-old Sam it’s not easy being the son of known civil rights activist Roland Childs. Especially when his older (and best friend), Stick, begins to drift away from him for no apparent reason. And then it happens: Sam finds something that changes everything forever.  Sam has always had faith in his father, but when he finds literature about the Black Panthers under Stick’s bed, he’s not sure who to believe: his father or his best friend. Suddenly, nothing feels certain anymore.” – from the publisher site.

OCS

One Crazy Summer / Rita Williams-Garcia

I know from Jumped that Williams-Garcia is a master of voice, so I expect that all the praise heaped on this title is well-founded.  From the NY Times review by Monica Edinger: “Mothers. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them. Yet 11-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters Vonetta and Fern have done just fine without theirs. Cecile, a poet, walked out on them just after Fern was born. Now, in the summer of 1968, their father, with the reluctant agreement of their grandmother, has decided that the three girls need to leave their Brooklyn home to spend a few weeks with their mother in Oakland, Calif., to get to know her. …Cecile brusquely takes them to her sparsely furnished stucco house; sends them to pick up a Chinese take-out dinner, which they eat on the floor; and then pretty much ignores them. The next day, wanting them out of her way, she directs them to the Black Panther People’s Center.”

colvin

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice / Phillip Hoose

Colvin was a teenager who was part of an earlier fight for civil rights – she refused to give up her seat on a bus just like Rosa Parks, but was deemed too unstable to base a landmark case on.

mapofireland

Map of Ireland / Stephanie Grant“In 1974, when Ann Ahern begins her junior year of high school, South Boston is in crisis — Catholic mothers are blockading buses to keep Black children from the public schools, and teenagers are raising havoc in the streets. Ann, an outsider in her own Irish-American community, is infatuated with her beautiful French teacher, Mademoiselle Eugenie, who hails from Paris but is of African descent. Spurred by her adoration for Eugenie, Ann embarks on a journey that leads her beyond South Boston, through the fringes of the Black Power movement, toward love, and ultimately to the truth about herself.” – from Goodreads description

If anyone has any good non-fiction recommendations about the Black Panthers, lemme know!

 

Dirty Little Secrets: Don’t tell anyone, but teens have sex.

Dirty Little Secrets: Breaking the Silence on Teenage Girls and Promiscuity
Kerry Cohen
2011, Sourcebooks, Inc.

review by Tessa

Characters
Girls who have sex, and the people who study them.

Hook
Teenage promiscuity is a Heated Topic. Kerry Cohen is the author of a memoir about her struggle with being what she calls a “loose girl” and this is her exploration of the wider experience of women and teenage girls with having sex–specifically why some girls have a lot of it, and why they feel bad about it and get stuck in harmful patterns of it.

Worldview
The tagline on the front of this book reads: “It’s not about when girls are having sex. It’s about why”. In general, Cohen sticks to the guns of this thesis, but she’s often co-opted by culture and her own past angst.

Intention Achievement
Lots of different groups of people freak out about teenagers having sex. When they’re having it. How often. What kind. I’m having trouble writing about it now, because I’m worried about people freaking out about me writing about teenagers having sex. So I have to applaud Kerry Cohen for writing as straightforwardly as she possibly can about teenage girls and sex, and for acknowledging that the sex is happening and will happen and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In the introduction she explains that

“this is not a book telling teenage girls not to have sex.  On the flip side, it’s also not a book that encourages promiscuity.  It’s a book about how we can all work together to find a way to let teenage girls top harming themselves with their sexual behavior. It’s a book–at its core–about girls’ rights and sexual freedom.”

For a nonfiction book aimed at (at least partially) the parental segment of the population, this is one of the shorter ones I’ve seen.  It’s about 190 pages. And yet, I think it could have lost about 30 of those and been even more effective at delivering its worldview.  Much of the introduction covers things that anyone who has thought about the subject of sexual identity and feminism has probably heard before.  For example, the first chapter ends with these musings: “a girl’s sexual maturity must be a paradox. Look, but don’t look. Touch, but don’t touch. In this way being a girl is invariably tied up with need and negation, and with how a girl must negotiate these opposing forces. For boys, it is entirely different.” True. And…?  But then again, I’m assuming things about the intended audience for this book. It’s not written towards teenagers, it’s not totally written towards parents, and it’s not really a guide for people working with teens.  It doesn’t prescribe antidotes to the problems it talks about, but it does provide an appendix of worksheets.  So if it is a book about how “we” can help teenage girls find sexual freedom, why isn’t it written for teenage girls in the first place?  And how am I supposed to go around using my new knowledge to help teenage girls?

Cohen wants a world where girls can have sex, or not have sex, and it isn’t a big deal, and no one is called a slut or a prude, and no one feels compelled to develop a process addiction wherein they have sex just for male attention.  She knows there’s no easy way to get there save through hard work involving the women who are already in this cycle. As for a way to talk to girls who are just starting their sexual lives, so they can understand the subtleties of feeling free to have sex, but not as a substitute for total emotional fulfillment.  Cohen is honest enough not to have One Answer, but that leaves a book that ends up feeling like a mishmash of anecdote and hopeful thinking. There’s a core of helpful and intelligent thinking in there, but it can get lost.

The thing about Cohen is that she has her whole history to contend with. She obviously feels one way about the sex she’s had, and the way it has shaped and damaged her. I don’t think she feels negatively about having sex, but the terminology of the book uses “promiscuity” as a bad word, describing girls who can’t separate the urge for sexual attention from their own sexual desires.  At times I forgot I was reading a book that was striving to create a neutral world of teenage sex.

Cohen uses a frank tone without dipping into overly jokey encyclopedic teenage health issues territory.  There are things in here that need to be talked about. And I challenge any woman who reads this not to see a little of herself in some of the stories.  It’s a great conversation starter, even just for a conversation between you, yourself, and… you.

Dirty Little Secrets takes a good-sized chip out of the anxious, frozen wall around teenage-girl sex talk, but it’s searching for a way to build a utopian society of sexual self-awareness while examining the entirety of current sexual culture, which leads to some murky ambiguity.  Even so, I’d like to see more books like this, and I’d like them to start discussions among their target audiences, so that the issues to tackle become smaller and smaller for future authors.

Readalikes

I assume this photo is by Tavi. Go to the site already!

Rookie Mag has the most honest writing from teenagers and young adults I’ve seen in a long time.  I guess it was hiding out in blogs and zines, and now a lot of it is in one place, thank you Tavi Gevinson and Jane Pratt.  In fact, they just published an article by a girl named Lexi, called “The Perfect Girl”,  about some of the very things that Cohen talks about:

“What my point is: society sucks. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation. I’m not allowed to be fat, but I’m not allowed to go on a diet either (or keep a food diary, for that matter). I’m not allowed to be dumb, but I’m not allowed to be smarter than a boy. I’m not allowed to do drugs or drink, but I’m considered boring if I don’t. I’m supposed to be an empowered woman, but if I ask for respect dudes will just call me an annoying bitch. Heck, if I wait to have sex I’m labeled a prude, but if I lost my virginity today there would be a lot of people thinking that slut.”

Body Drama by Nancy Amanda Redd

A cheerfully honest book to help girls through craziness of puberty

I got this book from: the library, after reading a review of it in Library Journal.

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