Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Party Like It's 1994

Well, as you can see, I took a breather from this after NaBloPoMo, for several reasons. One is that I'm just busier. I was playing in two orchestras this season, so I had two rehearsals a week to make, plus job hunting, getting ready for the holidays, etc. But I guess mostly it's because NaBloPoMo just wasn't that enjoyable for me this year and that it sort of killed some of the fun of the blog for me. Also, I haven't been reading anything spectacular. I've got For Whom The Bell Tolls going, but it's going kind of slowly and I couldn't really even state an opinion about it at this point.

But I picked up an old favorite this week, and felt like writing about it. I remember when I first got Girl by Blake Nelson. It's hard to believe that was almost fifteen years ago. I really enjoyed the book, and I'm pleased to say that I still do.

I don't know how much other people would like the book anymore. For teenagers today, it would probably seem like an artifact. Maybe in the future, it will be routinely assigned in history classes for students to learn about life in the 1990s, although there is an awful lot of fucking in it.

At base, it's a coming of age story. It's written in the vibrant voice of Andrea Marr, exactly as she'd tell the story verbally. Andrea's just a cool person. the back of the book says that it "chronicles Andrea's jittery journey from suburban mall to Portland's thriving underground rock scene -- and back again, as she discovers sex, betrayal and even love." And I guess that's as good a summary as any. Andrea is very energetic, and her run-on, breathy sentences tingle with such excitement that even a routine trip to the local after-school hangout seems like a momentous event. In her life, it is. Similar to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it's about someone in the process of becoming who she's going to be, and seeing the whole world open up before her, bit by bit.

I was a little older than Andrea when I read the book, but it still resonated for me. I was also buying lots of clothes from thrift shops, going to see local bands, hanging out in coffee shops and meeting lots and lots of interesting people. I didn't then and don't now agree with all of her choices. I think she sort of "sold out" towards the end, as she started spending more time with a more conservative preppy crowd. I also think that she let her best friend Cybil go too easily, after Cybil's band took off and scored a record deal in Seattle. She played fast and loose with some of the men in her life, too.

But it never kept me from enjoying the book. Andrea reminded me somewhat of my best friend at the time, and when I gave her the book and told her that, she was a bit offended by the comparison because she thought Andrea was a slut. But what attracted me to Andrea -- and to Karen too -- was her energy and her love of life. Andrea's a character that pops right off the pages and inspires you, even if you're not exactly sure how. Karen was a lot like that too, and I think she felt better once I told her

I was interested to see what had become of Blake Nelson, and how others viewed the book. Amazon.com shows that he's written several other books about teenagers since Girl's debut. There were two editorial reviews that completely opposed each other. One pointed out that it was more authentic than many teen books which came off more like catalogues than anything else ("Jenna called me on my iPhone and wanted to go to Starbucks, and I told her I was watching Surivivor but she insisted so I threw on my Gap jeans and my favorite American Eagle t-shirt and finished my Coke and ran downstairs to find my sketchers and beg my parents for the keys to the Jetta..."). They also pointed out ("they" being Publishers Weekly, I should have said that from the start) that the book didn't encourage judgement and captured the inconsistency of emotion.

Kirkus Review was fairly scathing, accusing Nelson of "bad valley girl parody" and superficiality. They also stated that the Cybil character wasn't developed enough, for allegedly being andrea's best friend. Some of these are valid criticisms, but I had an issue with the way they kept saying the book was about "teenage rebellion." Like the "teen angst" tag they tried to hang on Wallflower, it trivializes the experiences. I guess it's an easy way to dismiss a book you don't care for, but I thought it was horribly inaccurate in this case. There's little hint of Andrea wanting to 'rebel'. She doesn't spend a lot of time around her parents, but she does value the opinions of most of the adults she encounters. There's an early scene where she wears one of her thriftstore dresses out to Cybil's first big show. Her mother sees her and is horrifed. She ultimately lets her wear it, with a parting shot along the lines of "If you want to dress like a clown, that's your problem." It rings in Andrea's ears the entire way to the club, and she's a wreck by the time she gets there. That's not the point of view of someone who's out to 'rebel'.

Andrea is just seeking out alternative ways of living. When you're a teenager, the way most adults live looks mind-numbingly boring. They spend a lot of their time at some job, a good chunk of the rest of it doing things like maintaining the house and paying bills, and most of their so-called "free time" watching TV or reading stuff. Andrea's asking the age-old question "Is that all there is?" in her own way.

1 comment:

Stella Devine said...

I wish I could get over the idea that adult life is mind-numbingly boring. I'm nearly a full decade past my teenage years, and I still hate spending all my time working, paying bills and watching cruddy TV.