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The Diary of a Teenage Girl
By Phoebe Gloeckner
Published by Frog, LTD.

Phoebe Gloeckner's long-awaited follow-up to A Child's Life continues to explore the themes of that earlier work -- a precocious teenager discovering her sexual power even as she is, in the middle of her teenage years, being used for sex by virtually every straight male around her. Diary is more powerful and more affecting, though, because here Gloeckner is using a new format to more fully bring Minnie Goetze to life.

Gloeckner uses a number of techniques to carry this year-in-the-life to the reader -- don't go in expecting that this 300 page paperback is a traditional comic or graphic novel. Spot illustrations, pages of comics and cartoons and -- most powerfully -- simple, old-fashioned prose (allegedly actual diary entries that Minnie/Phoebe carefully typed out in her teenage years) work together to paint a portrait of a bright young girl out of control and longing for nothing more complicated than a hug and reassurance that she is loved, and worth loving. Minnie's needs are more often met with drugs, sex predicated on distorted power games, rape, and neglect. Gloeckner never comes out, here or in interviews, and says that this is her true life story. But given how many still-living people are indicted by her revelations, that's probably mostly a legal nicety. A lot of people commit crimes with or against "Little Minnie," in the course of The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Minnie, though, rarely comes off as a victim in the narrative. In getting immersed in her life story, I was sympathetic but not pitying. Minnie's intellegence and developing will to master her life blaze through this novel like a shining beacon. She is, as her step-father tells her, a brilliant girl with a promising future. But such assurances in the course of the story are highly suspect; the lack of attention Minnie's mother pays her combined with her mother's lifestyle combine to put Minnie particularly at risk, and she is just curious enough to follow the rabbit down the hole to get a glimpse of Wonderland, even as her intellect grows and leads her to want a better life. The trouble is, no one in a place to be a champion for Minnie -- whether her mother, her step-father, her psychiatrist, or her best friend -- ever rises above their own desires long enough to see the gifted young woman in their midst, crying out for love.

Minnie seems to carry on a love-hate relationship with everyone during this time, whether it's her mother's sometime-boyfriend Monroe (sexually opportunistic -- not to say abusive -- yet painted sympathetically by Gloeckner; and there are probably articles that could be written on the implications of that alone), her best friend Kimmie or the distant object of her desperate, confused affections, an older girl named Tabatha. Each seems more precious to Minnie the further away she is from them, both physically and emotionally. When she observes them closely, when she "makes love," (a phrase she has particular issues with in the text) with them or fights with them (or both), she is repulsed by their baser instincts and lack of higher aspirations. Minnie wants to be someone, moreover somehow already is someone, but it's her overwhelming need to see herself not with her own eyes but through the eyes of those she thinks she loves (and ought to love her) that seems to cause her the most harm.

Gloeckner has created a complex and challenging look at the life of a teenage girl. The reader will be forced to re-evaluate definitions of abuse, power, sex, and love. I imagine many, many readers will see reflections of themselves in this story, not all of them women. In sharing a year in the life of Minnie Goetze, Phoebe Gloeckner lets us into a world that is often hidden, but not that uncommon. She does it with a unique voice and a powerful narrative instinct. It took years, but Minnie Goetze found the champion she needed as a young woman. In Diary of A Teenage Girl, Gloeckner speaks up for herself, and for every girl. It would be criminal not to listen to what she has to say. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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