Grrrls on the Side, by Carrie Pack
Publisher: Interlude Press
Release Date: June 8, 2017
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The year is 1994 and alternative is in. But not for alternative girl Tabitha Denton; she hates her life. She is uninterested in boys, lonely, and sidelined by former friends at her suburban high school. When she picks up a zine at a punk concert, she finds an escape—an advertisement for a Riot Grrrl meet-up.
At the meeting, Tabitha finds girls who are more like her and a place to belong. But just as Tabitha is settling in with her new friends and beginning to think she understands herself, eighteen-year-old Jackie Hardwick walks into a meeting and changes her world forever. The out-and-proud Jackie is unlike anyone Tabitha has ever known. As her feelings for Jackie grow, Tabitha begins to learn more about herself and the racial injustices of the punk scene, but to be with Jackie, she must also come to grips with her own privilege and stand up for what’s right.
Let me start with a caveat: I rarely read YA. I don’t like stories set in high school, I’m not really interested in contemporary coming-of-age stories, and I find “first love” stories to be a bit of yawn. And yet, here I am to tell you that this book, which checks all those boxes, was a pleasure to read. And I’m happy to tell you why:
1. Some fierce on-page bisexual and lesbian rep (and some great female friendships). This book is firmly committed to exploring the variations of female friendships, rivalries, and romances.
2. Tabitha is amazing. I sometimes struggle with connecting to YA protagonists, but I fell right into step with Tabitha – it was almost like I was greeting a long lost friend while we headed back down memory lane to the ’90s. Tabitha is hands-down the girl I would pick to be my BFF. She is a sweetheart, fierce when she needs to be, and unapologetically herself. She is bi and fat, and despite the judgment she receives from other people, she doesn’t let them hold her back.
3. Riot Grrrl. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Riot Grrrl. It’s three-quarters of the reason why I wanted to read this book, and (from my perspective, at least), I feel like Carrie Pack captures the zeitgeist of the period. One of the neat features of the book is that the chapters end with excerpts from the zines that all of the characters are writing – these are a great framing device for the story, but are also a lot of fun just by themselves.
4. White feminism taken to task. Given the book blurb, I was hoping Grrrls would deliver on addressing the racism that still shows up in feminist spaces, and for the most part, it does. Jackie is one of the few black girls living in the overwhelmingly white suburb where most of the story takes place, and Jackie frequently checks Tabitha’s unthinking privilege and assumptions. In terms of exploring racial injustices and white privilege, Grrls takes a lighter hand in its approach, and I’m still grappling with whether enough was done for the story that’s told here.
Despite not having really having paid much attention to the ’90s while I lived them (I was youngish then), Grrrls on the Side made me super nostalgic. The landlines, the answering machines, the zines…Grrrls evokes a different time, while still feeling completely relevant to today. The latter half of the story felt like it dragged a little bit for me, and there are some rough patches, but ultimately this is a highly recommended read.
Never one for following the “rules,” Carrie Pack is a published author of books in multiple genres, including Designs on You, In the Present Tense (a 2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year finalist) and the forthcoming Grrrls on the Side (2017). Her novels focus on characters finding themselves in their own time—something she experienced for herself when she came out as bisexual recently. She’s passionate about positive representation in her writing and has been a feminist before she knew what the word meant, thanks to a progressive and civic-minded grandmother. Coincidentally that’s also where she got her love of red lipstick and desserts. Carrie lives in Florida, or as she likes to call it, “America’s Wang.”
You can purchase Grrrls on the Side from:
Barnes & Noble
Or add it to Goodreads
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.