... ambitious ... a feminist testament to survival ... Yet Febos isn’t relentlessly grim ... The compassion Febos has discovered for her younger self is inspiring ... I could have done without some of the other voices in this book — Lacan’s, Wharton’s, even those of some of her interview subjects — if only because Febos’s own voice is so irreverent and original. The aim of this book, though, is not simply to tell about her own life, but to listen to the pulses of many others’ ... This solidarity puts Girlhood in a feminist canon that includes Febos’s idol, Adrienne Rich, and Maggie Nelson’s theory-minded masterpieces: smart, radical company, and not ordinary at all.
With psychological clarity and emotional precision, Febos revisits the past to rewrite the future ... In the essay’s wandering, searching form, Febos creates a whirlpool of space to explore the ripple effects of sexual harm, away from patriarchy’s surveillance, judgment, and worn-out tropes. She also comes to a better understanding of what healing looks and feels like ... The scars of girlhood may never disappear, but in this collection, Febos offers more than solace. In a way, the book is an invitation to all people who grew up female, to plunge their own depths and not rescue, but rather recognize and mourn, their former selves, and the selves they could have been if not born into a body the world deemed less worthy than other bodies. Within its pages there are windows, air, sky, from which others can retrieve their own memories, rewrite them, let them go.
Every once in a while, a book comes along that feels so definitive, so necessary, that not only do you want to tell everyone to read it now, but you also find yourself wanting to go back in time and tell your younger self that you will one day get to read something that will make your life make sense. Melissa Febos’s fierce nonfiction collection, Girlhood, might just be that book. Febos is one of our most passionate and profound essayists ... Girlhood...offers us exquisite, ferocious language for embracing self-pleasure and self-love. It’s a book that women will wish they had when they were younger, and that they’ll rejoice in having now ... Febos is a balletic memoirist whose capacious gaze can take in so many seemingly disparate things and unfurl them in a graceful, cohesive way ... Intellectual and erotic, engaging and empowering[.]
... psychologically complex and lyrical ... profoundly intimate ... Although Girlhood is one of the most intimate and revealing books I have ever read, Febos brings a variety of outside source material to her explorations, from mythology to linguistic analysis of the way words are used against women ... if we read it closely enough, Girlhood has taken us closer to the eye of the storm of what it means to grow up female than most well-intended social-science and self-help books on the market. It is a text that adds up to far more than the sum of one woman’s parts .. Febos with rare acuity dismantles the various historical, literary, mythological, and everyday factors that lead to a girl being 'a thing of unknown value'; but, in this deep dive of unpacking, she insists (and this is what makes Girlhood a thing of incredible value) that, yes, something has 'been lost or taken' from us, and she redeems for us the parts of ourselves that we have been taught to hate. This triumph of learning to value herself enabled Febos to write a book that is somehow neither careful nor reckless but profoundly wise and healing, fearless and generous at once. With Girlhood, Febos has become much more than the edgy-but-brainy literary wild-child Whip Smart announced her as a decade ago, but rather — still only in her early 40s — one of our most crucial American writers.
I wish I could have read Girlhood when I was young. While I am decades past the era investigated by essayist Melissa Febos, her third memoir resonated with my own fraught emergence under surveillance and scrutiny ... whether examining adolescent bullying and the etymological roots of the word 'slut' or exploring the evolution of consent against the backdrop of cuddle parties, Febos illuminates how women are conditioned to be complicit in our own exploitation. Like much of her scholarship, it begins with somatic knowledge of the self.
... takes the task of looking backward seriously ... One of the most powerful themes running throughout these essays is Febos' nuanced approach to the harms that we live with, both those perpetuated upon us and those we walk into with eyes wide open ... Febos weaves in the voices of women she's interviewed about the subject matters at hand, which only benefits the book's tolling resonance ... not a universal book: It is Febos's experiences readers encounter and her lines of research that they follow. Its specificity is precisely why it resonates. Regardless how distinctly varied our childhoods and adolescences are, so many of us hate or distrust our bodies, have difficulty in saying no. By following Febos's distinct paths between the past and present, we might realize there's room to forge our own, and that we've just been handed a flashlight that helps illuminate the way.
These are the kind of familiar scenes so many of us try to forget, or at least avoid talking about with each other, for a lifetime. And Febos has a calibrated attention for the texture of those experiences, their particular flavor of shame and mild (or not) horror ... Febos's book forces us to linger in the nuances of sexuality, gender, consent, and eroticism. Her essays dive deep into all those gray waters of being a girl and then a woman: how self-loathing and self-love can crash against each other, creating a certain kind of dissonance that can take a lifetime to escape, if we ever do. If there is a way out, it might be through books like this one that give us a shared language for all the murky things we as women feel — but too rarely speak.
My reaction to the trope of the girl-dreamer might have to do with a tendency that I’m loath to recognize in myself: the assumption people make, based on the fact that they maintain an active fantasy life, that others don’t experience the world as intensely as they do ... The author is not claiming to be unusual; she is simply relaying how she felt. So why the sense of possessiveness, even jealousy? The answer, I think, is contained in Girlhood’s ominous trajectory. If women can grow attached to a vision of their younger selves as uncommonly pure, creative, and powerful, perhaps it’s because such insistence helps us to process the wrongness of what happened next ... The harrowing nature of that transformation is Girlhood’s core subject, and in seven chapters Febos explores the interconnected aspects of patriarchy and the marks that they’ve left on her ... The book’s centerpiece is a magisterial, seventy-six-page essay on what Febos terms 'empty consent'—not merely agreeing to unwanted sex, but the ways in which women are programmed to collaborate in their own diminishment ... Girlhood often feels like a baffled attempt to comprehend something impossible: How did a person given to climaxing joyously in the bathtub end up trapped in a 'twilit mode of passivity'? Febos, circling questions of fault and blame, is careful to distinguish between trauma (as it is popularly understood) and her own experience ... Here, again, however, is the irritation: we know this. And, in a post-MeToo society, where mores have shifted so quickly, is our lot really so bad? That’s the veneer, perhaps, on a frozen sort of fatigue: the sense, at least among some women, that all we ever talk about is feminism, as conditions somehow grow both better and worse ... In her earlier books, Febos, whose background is white, Hispanic, and Native American, cleaved close to her own experience. Girlhood, however, interviews 'them'—women who Febos believes have suffered worse than she has, owing to other markers of difference, and whose histories can plug gaps in her discussion of harassment, erasure, objectification. She invokes friends and acquaintances of color, as well as advocate-scholars ... These interviews, which provide clear evidence of patriarchy’s thousand-tentacled reach, carry us far from the girl-dreamer ... a thread of resistance runs through Girlhood ... She is also, perhaps, correcting the story of the girl-dreamer, whose elegy, it turns out, may have been premature—she lives to mother the woman.
Febos layers research from historical, literary, and cultural texts within her personal narratives––a technique familiar to readers of her other books––to deepen and enrich Girlhood’s ambitious aims to define the creation of gender within the patriarchy ... Febos not only offers herself a new playbook, scrutinizing the assumptions she has placed upon herself, she also examines how our culture prizes the narratives of boys over girls, often erasing the girl altogether in favor of a more understandable story. By looking at the social and cultural context in which we become women, this multileveled narrative affirms that our shared attitudes and beliefs about girls and the women we expect them to become are more important than whatever benefits we gain by denying and distorting them. Girlhood offers the plausibility that on the other side of personal and collective awareness lies the choice to play a different game.
In attempting to trace these conflicting narratives — and their lasting effects — in her own life, Febos has written here a work that is both an exposé and a corrective, a memoir and a polemic...she once again turns her keen intellect and unflinching honesty toward myriad personal stories that have wider implications for girls’ and women’s narratives. Neither self-indulgent nor guilty of navel-gazing, Febos writes about herself always in the service of her larger project: to dissect the long-term ramifications of the societal narratives forced upon girls and women ... a book that deserves to be savored, to be read more than once, to be given to all the people in your life — not just the girls and women — because we are all responsible for ensuring that every person be able to live by their own narrative.
The overall impression she creates is a collage of discomfitingly familiar rites of passage, all distinct and yet all tied together by a thread of learned self-abnegation. The book reads at moments like a meme built from various half-buried abuses and indignities, in which you pick the ones that apply to you ... Febos is an intoxicating writer, but I found myself most grateful for the vivid clarity of her thinking ... struck me as more of a treatise. It’s disquisitive and catalytic—it doesn’t demand change so much as expose certain injustices so starkly that you might feel you cannot abide them another minute ... Febos’s education is a kind I surely could have used.
Febos writes freely and boldly, narrating seemingly unpleasant, disturbing and intrepid experiences of a young girl. Yet, her writing is candid and sincere as she juxtaposes her thoughts with her actions ... Febos’s narrative about her body gently strums our heart strings with her blatant honesty ... Despite a promising start, the memoir slowly weakens with less-connected pieces on 'skin hunger' and cuddle-parties and traveling that fail to deliver their intended impact...The intermingling of the two seems jarred and confusing despite the powerful point she is trying to put across about consent and sexual desires ... Due to unnecessary and extended scholarly digressions, classical allusions, and cultural references, the text meanders between meaning and muddled thoughts potentially leaving the reader confused and uninspired. However, Febos’s writing is honest, bold and inviting. Girlhood, like an onion, needs to be peeled patiently to reveal its true center.
Melissa Febos’ Girlhood weaves together autobiographical essays, interviews, Greek mythology, and media research to form an intricate tapestry of personal experiences that reflect a greater societal impact. Febos relentlessly interrogates the various truths of growing up in a society that prioritizes the feelings, opinions, and power of men at girls’ expense ... Febos allows Girlhood to speak volumes to the readers who see themselves between the lines of her narrative ... readers are given the space to understand how life has its deepest points at the center and then we come up for a breath. Always, there is a breath ... there is something to be said about being brave enough to bring a mirror to the self and to society in order to investigate truth. In the end, readers can see flashes of familiarity amongst the individual experiences of women. There is, after all, solace in knowing that you are not alone.
Febos is a dab hand at the memoir genre ... While her route to making sense of her own life is usually circuitous, her thoughtfulness as she reaches toward a conclusion is a delight to follow ... Many of Febos’ girlhood experiences stemmed from her body developing maturely at a young age. She fearlessly interrogates her adolescent reaction to these changes and the attendant shame, voyeurism and almighty male gaze that subsumed her young life. Each essay is layered like a sfogliatelle ... Sources listed at the book’s conclusion range widely from Black feminist and race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw to British art critic John Berger ... offers what some may view as a dark portrayal of young adulthood, in which opportunities for degradation are seemingly limitless. And some of Febos’ later-in-life experiences, such as heroin addiction and sex work, won’t be shared by every reader. But anyone raised as a girl will be able to relate to something in Girlhood, and those who weren’t will marvel at this book’s eye-opening, transformative perspective.
... long, artistic, and art-informed essays that are rich with references ... Buzzing black-and-white drawings by Forsyth Harmon begin each essay, illustrating a quote from the piece. In this book of liberating inquiry and divine depth, Febos again and again connects the constellations of herself and the world she and all women must learn to live in.
An acclaimed nonfiction writer gathers essays embracing the pleasure, pain, and power of growing up as a girl and woman ... In her latest powerful personal and cultural examination, Febos interrogates the complexities of feminism and the darkness that has defined much of her life and career ... Profound and gloriously provocative, this book—a perfect follow-up to her equally visceral previous memoir, Abandon Me (2017) —transforms the wounds and scars of lived female experience into an occasion for self-understanding that is both honest and lyrical. Consistently illuminating, unabashedly ferocious writing.