Book: Grrrls on the Side
Publisher: Duet (Interlude Press)
Publication date: June 8, 2017
Length: 230 pages
Reviewed by Erin
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.
Learning to support other girls
When I was in high school, forming meaningful friendships with girls did not come easy. I’d been burned too many times by girls whom I thought were my friends. Much like Tabitha in Grrrls on the Side, a once best friend had turned her back on me, and worse, became one of my tormentors. Some of the first girls I met in high school seemed to be of the same variety and were all too quick to tease, taunt, and degrade me. It was years before I had a close girlfriend again.
It took me even longer to realize that my hang ups about making friends with other girls were my issues and not theirs. I was deep into my “I’m not like other girls” phase. This all-too-common mindset is toxic for girls in high school who are learning what type of person they will become. The effects of this are what cause women to be suspicious of each other and to blame the other woman instead of the cheater. It prevents us from banding together and forming strong communities. It forces us to rely on men and boys for our emotional support. None of that is healthy. It’s not surprising, then, that I ended up writing a young adult novel about a character who learned this lesson.
What was surprising, though, was that when I set out to write a book about Riot Grrrl, I planned to explore the lack of intersectionality in the Grrrls’ feminism. I wanted to comment on the parallels between an early 1990s movement and today’s feminists. Instead what I wrote became a love letter to the very types of relationships I had lacked in high school—how they can be good, bad, and ugly all at once.
As the story began to develop on the page, I realized, Riot Grrrl was really about the bonds of friendship between women. Yes, they had a feminist agenda. Yes, it was about punk music, zines, and expressing oneself. Yes, there was a lack of intersectionality and inclusion at times. But it was also an army of girls who would defend each other, support each other, push each other and even call their friends out on problematic behavior. It was the very definition of “girl gang.”
In writing Grrrls, I set out to give Tabitha the high school experience I never got to have. Along the way I learned to be supportive of all women and girls. To boost my sisters and give them hope. To love them in the way I needed to be loved. To be the kind of friend we all desperately need. Ultimately, I hope readers can learn from my book that the bonds of friendship among women and girls are to be treasured and nurtured. We have each other. And that’s pretty badass.
Picture this. It's the early 1990's, and grunge and punk are the music of the time. Flannel shirts, combat boots, and zines, Grrrls on the Side by Carrie Pack showcases the Riot Girl movement of the early '90's with heartfelt poignancy. This whole world was a bit after my time in high school (but not much!) so most of this was new information for me. It doesn't mean I couldn't relate because boy could I and Pack has given us a book that will definitely take you back while making you think at the same time. This is the first book by Carrie Pack that I've read but it certainly won't be the last.
I have to commend Pack first and foremost for the fat girl representation as well as the bisexual rep. Tabitha Denton was such a great character and so easy to relate to. She's bullied in school for being fat and weird and it's not until she finds the Riot Girl movement that she begins to find her way and find a place where she's accepted. Her journey of self-discovery, both sexual identity as well as personal identity, was so satisfying to read. She's so likable and though she's got a few awkward moments and some painful ones, too, you just can't help but root for her. Grrls on the Side takes a look at many things. White privilege, racism, feminism, and sexual assault to name a few. Though the topics are heavy, the book is not. Yes, there are moments of painful self-reflection, but this just makes the book all the more real.
The writing in Grrrls on the Side is excellent. Fast paced and full of emotion and wonderful imagery. I really loved how each chapter ends with an excerpt from a zine and interspersed throughout are snippets of poetry and song lyrics. There are a plethora of diverse secondary characters, both male and female, in the book and each and every one added something to the overall story. I was really fascinated by the whole aspect of Grrrls on the Side and really, the entire book was just a fantastic journey. This book will make you think, but it will also make you feel. I hope you'll check it out, it's definitely a book that should be on your Must Read list.
Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we can’t change things.
Cherie does her usual spiel calling the girls down to the front, and the crush of bodies closes in on us. It’s hot and sweaty, but I don’t care. Jackie squeezes my hand, and we share a smile just as Shut Up rips into their first song.
My friends are cool. They’re in a band and they are legitimately, undeniably cool. And not in an abstract, I-like-this-music kind of way. But in an own-the-stage, make-you-want-to-start-your-own-band kind of way.
Dancing comes easier this time. I raise my hands over my head and thrash with the crowd, not caring what I look like or who’s watching. This is my territory… and theirs. In this moment, girls own this place and that’s powerful. For the first time in my life, I’m part of something bigger than myself. It may not solve world hunger, but it matters. Just like Kate’s obsessive need to protest, and Marty’s passion for Riot Grrrl, and Cherie’s unapologetic femininity, everything has its place. Even “Flabby Tabby” dancing at a concert is part of it.
I look around to take it all in. Jackie and I are once again front and center, but this time we are surrounded by dozens of girls who came to see Shut Up play. I recognize a few of them, but most are just here because they heard about a punk girl band and want to be a part of the moment. I can’t believe it. I’m part of something, and it’s not dorky or cheesy. It’s real. I’m real.
About Carrie Pack
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 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.”
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Connect with Carrie Pack at carriepack.com, on Twitter @carriepack, and on Facebook at facebook.com/mscarriepack.
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