Here's something I would not have expected, certainly not on a night when I have a deadline looming on another project - I opened the mail after work and found a copy of this fat book, the first print product of Tavi Gevinson, aka The Style Rookie, and I opened it up and read the first couple of pages... and then I read the whole thing straight through for like five hours.
Tavi - don't you know who Tavi is? Tavi is this wonder-child. Only 16 years old now, she started blogging about style and fashion when she was like eleven and quickly became a fashion world darling. She wore her hair in a faded blue-gray bob, sometimes with a giant bow. She was, by all accounts, enthusiastic and questioning, eager to learn, a total fashion fan, but always with a point of view. I never read The Style Rookie, though. Really, I spend so much time keeping up with children's lit, all I have time for is Go Fug Yourself and sometimes Lainey.
I had heard that last year she enlisted some kid cronies and some Big Cool Friends (a little Jane Pratt here, a little Ira Glass's wife there) and created an online teen magazine, kind of a wistful avant-garde version of Sassy, called Rookie. I never read that either. "Godspeed, Tavi, you nonconformist Rodarte-meets-thrift-store brainiac," I thought, "but I am not your audience."
After all, I'm old enough to be her mother. I love the idea of young people finding and exploring the things that turn them on intellectually and visually, and if I actually had a daughter, I would expect her to be exhuming old clothes from my closet and dressing like a kook for several years just like I did when I was fifteen. It's a developmental thing. All kids should go through that phase. Rookie celebrates the hell out of it.
So I was kind of blown away when I found myself unable to put Rookie Yearbook One down. Sure it's full of cartoony illustrations and bits of collage and scrawled playlists and daydreamy photo layouts, but all that is just cool-kid window dressing. What is spectacular here is the writing.
This writing is... well, damn, it's just some of the most honest, nonjudgemental, positive writing I have ever seen aimed at teens. The Rookie writers explore their passions (Heart - YES; Hanson - GOD NO), their failures and heartbreaks, their rites of passage, and the things that make them swear and rage - oh the multipage conversation in which they share tales of public sexual harassment, published here in its entirety, including the comments from readers relating their own stories of humiliation, should perhaps be required reading in all high school sociology classes for all humans of any age.
They drop things like cutting, food abuse and alcohol - topics the mere mention of which cause parents to cross themselves and reach for the Xanax - into their articles in this very natural, a-lot-of-kids-have-tried-this-and-it-doesn't-work-out-that-well way that I know regular young people will appreciate.
There is flat-out advice: how to tell someone you like them, do eye makeup like Twiggy, make a zine, masturbate, and to not give a damn what people think of you. There are appreciation essays, titled "Literally the Best Thing Ever," on subjects like Joni Mitchell, glitter, and deep-sea creatures. There are guest posts by Miranda July and Paul Feig (whom they probably love for Freaks and Geeks but whom I love for Ignatius MacFarland).
And my goodness, Tavi does terrific interviews. She asks all the right questions of Aubrey Plaza, David Sedaris, and Joss (JOSS!). Her pal Hazel gets John Waters to reveal that he secretly loves art films. The prose itself is conversational and sincere, but also clear and succinct. For all their youth, the junior journalists of Rookie are very accomplished essayists.
In the end though, what kept me reading, what I kept not being able to get over, was this uncompromising, very specific expectation of and demand for consideration and respect. Tavi and her ladies understand what it is to be female in this culture - they embrace the girliness (to varying degrees), and they articulate very clearly how girls can enjoy their femininity while maintaining a firm grasp on the nature of true beauty. While they acknowledge that watching fashion can be a really fun hobby (oh it is - I have bought and kept every September issue of Vogue since 1978), they remind girls that each model has spent three hours in a makeup chair and been Photoshopped all the way to Jesus and back.
They are incredibly clear on why women should not have to put up with unsolicited comments on their appearance, and they back these statements up with rebuttals to the defenses that men sometimes counter with.
"I want these guys to know that they're able to be so cavalier because they don't hear unsolicited opinions on their bodies and alleged sex lives all the time. Because the changes they noticed in the mirror a year or two ago were not interpreted as permission by strangers to offer an opinion on their bodies." -- Tavi, from the essay "First Encounters with the Male Gaze"
I feel sure Tavi would be ok with me saying: STEAL THAT AT WILL.
This book belongs on a very short list of books that offer actual, non-wimpy, un-fake shoring-up of the adolescent female psyche. That list also includes All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem: An Inappropriate Book for Young Ladies*, which is, probably not coincidentally, similarly funny, well-designed, and full of cool things to look at.
No stickers though. Tavi's book has stickers. DAMN, Tavi.