CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008
girlSpoken: From Pen, Brush & Tongue.
Jessica Hein. Heather Holland & Carol Kauppi, eds.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2007.
201 pp, pbk., $18.95.
Teenagers’ writings, Canadian (English).
Teenage girls-Literary collections.
Canadian literature (English)-Women authors.
Canadian literature (English)-21st century.
Art, Canadian-21st century.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Jennifer Ariel Caldwell.
To Shave or Not to Shave
To shave or not to shave, that is the question.
Whether tis nobler in a leg to suffer
The cuts and scratches of outrageous fashion,
Or to take arms against a sea of smoothness
And by opposing, ignore it and let it grow.
To shave no more, but by a shave to say
We end the thousand petty jibes that hair is heir to.
Tis a situation easily avoided.
To shave, to shave perhaps to fit in. Ay there’s the rub,
For in not fitting, what tests may come,
When we’ve admitted that it matters much,
May give us pause.
For who would bear the looks and scorns of society?
Th’eyebrow raised, the jerkwads’ passing jest,
The pangs of changeroom comparisons, and the spurns of
This is when she herself might her surrender make with a bare calf.
It is the dread of submission that may make us rather bear this fur
Than fly standards smooth.
Yet fuzziness does make outasts of us all.
And thus my ardent resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the cast of a silky thought
And I enterprise quick to remove it.
Thus I lose the name of activist.
Oh, how soft you now!
Be all my intents remember’d.
-Avelyn Waldman, 14.
girlSpoken is a compilation of poetry, drawing, painting, and prose by Canadian girls aged 13-19. The book, edited by Jessica Hein, Heather Holland and Carol Kauppi, was born of a larger arts project (also called GirlSpoken) that focused on providing girls and young women with a safe place to express themselves and their experiences through art and writing.
Teen contributors sent in over 800 nonfiction pieces, which were whittled down to the 106 included in the book. Four themes, Voice, Beauty, Strength, and Becoming, provide a loose structure. The editors introduce each section, provide an in-depth introduction and conclusion, and finish the book with a piece that grounds the girls’ voices in a feminist perspective and explains more about the GirlSpoken project.
The art pieces are all self-portraits, perhaps originally done in colour but published in black and white. The portraits demonstrate maturity and a wide variety of art styles. The faces make the book feel more personable, even if the faces represented are not the faces of the authors.
Journal entries, letters, short stories, poetry and prose make up the text. The contributors challenge female stereotypes and familial, social and personal expectations. They address self-perception issues like weight, self-consciousness, self-awareness, and what it’s like to try to fit in. A girl who has Downs Syndrome and a girl with hearing impairment eloquently express what they’d like other girls to know about their experience in a world that judges quickly. Several girls examine mental health issues, institutionalization and stigma.
The girls describe changes in their families, such as parents’ separation or the changing role of parents and children. A native girl tells a story passed down through her family and explains how her worlds clash now that she had to leave her family in the bush to go to school in town. Another girl expresses concern for her mother who has abandoned the family.
Contributors describe their experiences as immigrants and refugees or with drugs and alcohol. Many girls examine friendship in all its guises. They comment on social issues like feminism and the role of women and girls in society, the male gaze, and concepts of beauty and desire. Their writing styles vary between poetic and blunt about crushes, moments of stolen intimacy, sexuality (including virginity and homosexuality), teen pregnancy and motherhood, consensual sex and rape. Innocence and worldliness carry equal weight throughout the book.
Statistics like "60% of girls and young women have experienced some form of harassment and abuse" are sprinkled throughout the book and balance the intensely personal pieces. The facts garnish, not overwhelm, the girls’ messages.
girlSpoken contains the words and artwork of girls teetering on the brink between girlhood and adulthood. The contributors comment on the power of words and self-expression, and while they don’t hold back in expressing pain and heartbreak, their message is ultimately hopeful. This book belongs where girls can pick it up and browse.
Jennifer Ariel Caldwell is a children’s librarian at Vancouver Public Library and the President of the Young Readers’ Choice Award Society of BC.
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