cover image Girlhood: Essays

Girlhood: Essays

Melissa Febos. Bloomsbury, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63557-252-0

Febos (Abandon Me) recounts her traumatizing adolescence in eight revealing essays. As she writes in the introduction, “I was a happy child. The age of ten or eleven... marked a violent turn” in which the harsh realities of true “girlhood” began. She then comments on the horrific ways in which women are bent from an early age by the male ego, citing examples from classic literature (“I recently reread Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth and found it almost too painful to finish”), film, and behavioral research. In “Kettle Holes,” she recalls how, at 11, a neighborhood boy repeatedly spat on her for reasons she still cannot comprehend. In “Mirror Test,” at 12, she submitted to the groping of a friend’s brother and his friends as part of a “game,” and it’s moments such as these, she writes, that “trained her mind” to embrace values “that do not prioritize [my] safety, happiness, freedom.” Over time, she adopted false “stories about [herself],” which led to heroin abuse and a harrowing stint in sex work. She closes with “Les Calanques,” in which she describes her recovery in the South of France on a monastic writing retreat. The prose is restrained but lyrical throughout. Raw and unflinching, this dark coming-of-age story impresses at every turn. (Mar.)