Listening to the voluble and repetitive verbal traffic of teen girls is not for the faint of heart. After all, who over 25 really wants to be initiated into the ways of the adolescent iPhone? Yet Ms. Sales doesn’t mind listening—and she’s exquisitely unobtrusive as she does it. Conversations that are not safe for adults seem to open like apps under her fingertips. She has sophisticated methods of infiltration, a willingness to stick with infinite scrolls of text threads and mobile chat, and a high tolerance for amateur pornography.
Sales' steady string of vignettes can be numbing at times, with one girl after another talking about boys asking them for 'nudes,' the lack of romance in a culture that revolves around 'hook-ups,’ and the pressure to constantly project a virtually approved image of perfection. But that repetition, interspersed with many young women’s poignant reflections, powerfully conveys how pervasive these experiences and feelings are among American girls.
This book does an unnerving job of depicting the highly sexualized environment teenagers inhabit today on the web and the social anxiety created by spending hours a day online. But American Girls is hardly groundbreaking in its revelations ... Sadly, many of Ms. Sales’s common-sense observations are undermined by her lapses into psychobabble.
It feels a bit strange to call for more talk of boys and big corporations in a book about girls. But when it comes to dating and sex, teenage girls are already subject to near-constant scrutiny, and they’re too often considered in isolation, as though the dangers and injustices they face are entirely theirs to solve. By focusing almost exclusively on how girls suffer, Sales repeats the usual unhelpful and defeatist refrain: It’s a terrible world out there, and girls have to navigate it all on their own.
Even if you’ve managed to avoid other journalistic stakeouts on the subjects of sexting, sexualized cyberbullying, and Instagram fame, these stories are shocking, then enlightening, then boring. The element that’s often sorely missing from scaremongering teen trend stories—actual teenage girls, talking about their actual lives—becomes tedious when told 200 times.
...[Doesn't] entirely avoid the exaggerations, the simplifications, the whiff of manufactured crisis that we have come to associate with this genre ... To use sun-dappled recollections of life before the iPhone as a way of pointing up the misery of girls’ present conditions is a little misleading ... Sales portrays social media as an irresistible and ubiquitous force in the lives of young women...Is this an accurate representation of social media’s utter dominion, one wonders, or a reflection of Sales’s rather narrow line of questioning?
American Girls, organized by its interviewees’ ages (from 13 to 19), dives deeply (and appallingly) into teen culture and its reliance on social media, but at the cost of considerable repetition and tedium ... Sales deserves credit for the intimacy of her reporting. She managed to record innumerable, mostly insipid, often horrifying, and occasionally perceptive conversations among groups of girls, and a handful with the boys who alternately befriend and exploit them.
In urgent prose, Sales introduces her readers to (or reminds them of, depending on their age) the hallmarks of growing up in the Internet era, from slut-shaming to the rise of YouTube stars as role models. The studies Sales cites are illuminating, but she’s most compelling—and frightening—when observing these earnest girls navigating their natural habitats.
The subtext of this book is that porn-cult and the Kardashian clan form a feedback loop that perpetuates rape culture, selfie culture, and every other social-media problem of the last few years. Sales writes that 'the biggest, darkest cloud in the perfect storm that brought Kim Kardashian rising out of the ocean of wannabe celebrities like Venus on a flip phone was the widespread consumption and normalization of online porn' ... Let's hope this book is a stepping-stone to a brighter online future.