Phoebe Gloeckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl begins with a note of caution. “This book,” it reads, “contains private information…if you do read on, don’t you dare ever let me know that you did or I swear to God I will kill myself or run away or do any number of self-destructive things. I beg of you, for my sake and yours, do not do not do not.” And with that we proceed through the riveting chronicles of Minnie Goetez as she struggles to become an adult in 1970s San Francisco.
Littered with hundreds of anecdotes – both gruesome and cute – Minnie’s diary tells the story of an illicit affair she began with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe and everything you could want is here: sex, violence, and suspense included. With whole scenes illustrated as comics and cartoons, we get to know Minnie in her natural environment. Short, enthusiastic, and impressionable, she willfully embraces the sex, alcohol, drugs, and popular culture around her with all the enthusiasm of a child in a playground.
Monroe, on the other hand, is roughly twice her age and from the moment he is lured by her advances; both are bound in an ongoing struggle for power. Between her needs for sex and his for adult companionship, the relationship they have unfolds in disaster. Yet, in spite of any moralising we could visit upon his character, Monroe does try to do the right thing in breaking up and distancing himself. And ironically, his indiscretion ultimately brings Minnie to take responsibility for her life.
However, there are probably a lot of Mums and Dads who would object to their teenagers reading this sort of material, especially because we witness the real consequences of drugs, sex, and alcohol without the hysteria you find in other most books. As a drug user, Minnie is certainly not an addict or abuser.
Putting aside Gloeckner’s honesty, her written and illustrative style are what make Diary a real pleasure to read. Each word sizzles with enthusiasm and occasional brooding. And her drawing style is like a feminine Robert Crumb, with detailed illustration of both muscle and fat. Yet unlike Crumb, she opts for realism over exaggeration – and this helps to give the book its bitter sweetness.
All up, Diary of a Teenage Girl is difficult to forget for its powerful mix of the innocent and the guilty. And while I would not recommend it for twelve year olds, it is worth a look for both teenagers and their elders.