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The Diary of a Teenage GirlReview - The Diary of a Teenage Girl
An Account in Words and Pictures
by Phoebe Gloeckner
Frog Ltd, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Feb 9th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 6)

It is very tempting when reading a novel in the form of a confessional diary to speculate how much the book is taken from real life.  That temptation is compounded when one sees that the main character as she is drawn bears a strong resemblance to pictures of the author.  But in the interviews included in Gloekner's own web site, she tends to get impatient with the interviewers who succumb to this temptation, even though at other points she admits that the novel does have some correspondence to her own life.  For example, like her main character Minnie, Gloeckner really did know comic book artist Robert Crumb.  She says that she strongly identified with Minnie yet she insists that the main story is fictional.  Given that Minnie's central relationship in the novel is a secret affair with Monroe, her mother's boyfriend, readers are probably especially likely to conclude that the story must be autobiographical.  It is such a sensitive and difficult topic that it is hard to imagine someone making it the heart of their first novel if it didn't come from some personal experience.  What's more, this novel is so personal and authentic that it feels like it must be based on reality.  But of course that could simply be the mark of Gloeckner's skill as a fiction writer, and ultimately it isn't any of our business what happened to the author as a girl. 

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is unusual because it combines text with graphics.  There is much more text, but the pages with the comic book art transform the feel of the book.  A few crucial episodes in Minnie's life get told in graphic novel form, and this brings variety to the pace and authorial mode of the book.  The text, being a diary, is written in the first person, but of course the graphic parts are told from a third person perspective.  We get to see the people Minnie is talking about, and the images bring her text alive. 

The story is set between March 1976 and March 1977.  Minnie is 15 and lives in San Francisco.  Her stepfather is a distant figure having been out of the family picture for years.  Minnie has a crush on Monroe, who is 35.  They start getting into a sexual relationship, which Minnie likes a great deal at first, but quickly she becomes much more ambivalent about it.  Minnie's friends are getting into trouble of their own and her mother spends a lot of time getting high, so Minnie's behavior is not that surprising, given the exploitation and deception in her relationship with Monroe.  As Gloeckner portrays Minnie, her moodiness and confusion make perfect sense.  What may be more shocking to readers is the fact that she both enjoys her sexuality and power while at the same time she feels used and guilty that she is betraying her mother and risking so much.  She starts taking drugs and hanging out with more dangerous characters and risking violence.  She also starts her own comic book art and gains confidence, so her maturing is complex rather than simply a morality tale about a descent into degradation.  Minnie's family is strange because on the one hand her mother is neglectful and wasted, but on the other hand she is well-connected and even ambitious for her daughter.  1970's San Francisco is a powerful presence in the story, permissive and free, yet enabling this abusive treatment of Minnie.  These different elements combine to a multi-dimensional story that paints a rich portrait of Minnie. 

Gloeckner's novel is one of the most memorable accounts of a girl's troubled negotiation into adulthood.  Highly recommended. 

 

Link: Author website

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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