“I can’t believe that I have to go back to high school. I saw a whole bunch of ‘cool kids’ at the movie theatre today. They looked at me like I was a freak and then acted like jerks by yelling and throwing food all the way through the whole movie. This is what they think rebellion is. They also think it’s rebellious to take tons of drugs, have unsafe sex, and go to secret parties in farmer’s fields. I don’t WANT to do any of that stuff so I end up seeming like a nerd instead of a rebel but I know that I really am a rebel!”
I want to cry; I just finished Jennifer Whiteford’s first book, Grrrl and I’m so happy and nostalgic I could puke. To set the mood right, I just threw on a Huggy Bear/Bikini Kill/Bratmobile riot grrrl playlist to write this review.
Grrrl is a coming-of-age story written in a journal entry format by Marlie, a suburban teenage girl who saves her work money to make treks into Toronto to buy records and thrift store dresses. _Grrrl _follows Marlie through her awkward freshman year where she tests out her new punk fashion aesthetic and meets new friends who share her musical tastes. We see Marlie make the transition from being a super excited audience member freaking out about seeing all-girl bands to becoming a teenage rockstar playing shows in her own band. We see her evolve from stressing about boys in early entries to later entries that talk about how excited she is about band practice or one of their shows.
Her slightly older uncle, Ben, and his former rocker girlfriend, Sheena, act as twenty-something punk rock mentors to Marlie helping her find out about new bands and get into shows. The turning point in the novel comes on a summer trip to Seattle with Ben and Sheena to attend a rock festival. At this festival Marlie and Sheena get invited to a riot grrrl convention where Marlie gets her first kiss and ponders over whether or not she is a lesbian if she has only kissed a girl, but still crushes on boys back home. She returns to her Toronto suburbs pledging to support other girls and be the girl she wants to be.
Grrrl is the perfect book for those of us who were also raised on the margins of riot grrrl culture. We didn’t live in Olympia or DC and have instant access to become active participants in the movement, but we consumed its’ music and ‘zines and ran with the DIY ethic to start our own projects. Through introspective journal entries, Marlie is the perfect character to identify with; we see her doubting herself and her relationships, but watch as she figures things out and carves out her own unique space.
I finished this book wishing my little nephews were teenage nieces so I could quickly drop this in the mail to them to help inspire a whole new era of teenage riot grrrl feminist rebellion. Then again, I think I’ll give this book to my nephew when he’s a teenager so he can be inspired by girls who don’t take shit and love to rock out.