Jennifer Whiteford does amazing things: her cute-core zine Mattilda; her girl-scream band, Sophomore Level Psychology, and she’s dedicated to D.I.Y. culture, feminism and her hometown of Ottawa. When her novel, Grrrl, was released, I was excited to pick up a copy ASAP, my fandom of this sweet-as-pie reluctant hero re-energized.
Grrrl is the coming-of-age story of 15-year-old Marlie, who narrates the novel in a series of journal entries. Marlie is trapped outside of Toronto, unimpressed by her peers and igniting a passion for underground music. I love first person confessional, but Marlie’s secrets weren’t interesting to me. Her friends’ characters weren’t developed, her own self-analysis was lacking and her feminism was a little Spice Girls.
Even the juicy bits were presented with a “Yesterday I baked brownies. I also lost my virginity” ambivalence. I was exhausted by the 35 exclamation points that littered each page. Science test today! Cool girl band on the radio! Going to the zoo with my class! It would be nitpicky if it wasn’t actually this excessive, and detracting from any actual enthusiasm.
Maybe it’s that I still like Huggy Bear, but I was sad that riot grrrl was represented with a series of fake bands and fake songs on fake albums. If Grrrl was to depict an oft-neglected era, then why not mark it with what made it? I wanted typewriters, mini-buttons and mail network–the things I know Whiteford knows. Instead I got a single pad-making workshop and a bunch of made-up names.
Complaints aside, to date no one has written of this scene from this perspective any better (especially no Canadian). I’ve not written Whiteford off, I just hope that the next time I get excited about one of her projects, I find myself more satisfied. For now, I suggest passing Grrrl onto some very young readers, and finding an old copy of Mattilda for yourself. (Tara-Michelle Ziniuk)
by Jennifer Whiteford, $13.95, 252 pages, Gorsky Press, PO Box 42024, Los Angeles CA, 90042, razorcake.com/gorskypress