Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner

There is no getting around this. The content of The Diary of a Teenage Girl is shocking, and even more so due to the fact that it is a fictionalised memoir. But perhaps it is important to put the book into historical context. The story is set in San Francisco in 1976. This is a time and a place where young people had a greater amount of sexual freedoms than previous generations. Contraceptives were available, removing the fear and stigma of an unwanted pregnancy, while HIV and AIDS would not be heard of for a good five years. This is also an era where sexual abuse and adolescent mental illness were not discussed as freely as they are today--Minnie would not have been able to turn to a friend, the internet or anywhere else for answers.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is made up of a combination of diary entries, comics and illustrations that tell the story of Minnie, a fifteen year old whose life is not unlike that of the author. Minnie has just returned home from boarding school and is living with her mother and her younger sister. The story opens with her being groomed by her mother's boyfriend whose intent is pretty clear. And the truly frightening thing about this story is that Minnie isn't frightened--in fact she welcomes the beginning of their sexual relationship. A combination of elements, most notably being neglected by her parents, has led her to believe that she isn't good enough and that no one else would ever want to have sex with her. So if she doesn't sleep with Monroe, she will never get to experience sex. (This is adolescent logic at it's worst--self depreciating, self destructive and ultimately vulnerable.) From there, the reader experiences an utterly tragic year in the life of a young woman whose combination of vulnerability and poor choices leads to her being taken advantage of by a number of different people, which further sets of a course of self-destructive behaviour. (At one point, she tries to start a relationship with a young man who has been institutionalised because he has urges to kill people.) Eventually, Minnie finds some salvation when she realises that she has some very real artistic talent. 

The novel captures how easily young people can confuse sex for everything that it isn't, and why good people can make bad choices. 

I found this book extremely heartbreaking and difficult to read.