Reviews

Grrrls on the Side

Author: Carrie Pack

Publisher: Duet Books/Interlude Press

Publication Date: 8. June 2017

Rating: 1/5. Stars

Diversity: LGBT Characters (lesbian, bi), PoC (black)

TW: racism, sexual abuse, rape, csa, homophobia, use of lesbophobic slurs, biphobia, bullying, fatphobia, cissexism,

Summary: 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.

goodreads

Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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When I first heard about this book, I was so excited! Riot Grrrls! Punk! A fat bisexual Main Character! And all of these points were delivered on, sometimes even quite well. But for a book that praises itself on intersectional feminism, there is still a lot of terrible things going on.

For a really long time in this book, racism goes unchallenged. Sure the black girls that are affected by it don’t like it, but Tabitha simply doesn’t understand why something like this might hurt somebody, even if her girlfriend regularly explains to her that it does. She actually only understands how her experiences as a white bisexual woman with accepting parents differ from the experiences of her girlfriend as a black lesbian woman, who has been not accepted at home and subsequently ended up crashing at a friend’s place, when a white woman explains it to her.

There is a super racist character that plays a huge role in the book. She always talks about how the black girls just make everything about race, while downplaying the racism and misogyny black women face especially for being black women. This is only ever called out by the black characters themselves, while the white main character stands by and thinks that it’s kind off bad, sure, but not that big of a deal anyway and doesn’t say anything. Repeatedly.

Also, I think sexual abuse and rape is portrayed horribly in this book. Pretty early on, one character outs another character as a sexual abuse survivor after she broke down in tears. Her pain and what happened to her is then used to make a statement ala all Rapists are Evil, Crush the Patriarchy, while the girl is still in the room crying. This moment really left me flabbergasted, because it just shows so little respect for survivors. There is also a scene where Tabitha gets sexually assaulted (after being told that she just needs a man so she won’t be with women anymore, so uh be careful) and her girlfriend downplays this moment by saying she knows the guy who did it and she knows that he is harmless. After this, they break up, but the character still acts like she was in the right and Tabitha overreacted.

Then, of course, there is a lot of cissexism. Actually, this book is only for cis women. Trans people don’t “exist” in it and vaginas and uteruses and “the body” are often compared to what makes someone a woman. For a book that wants to be about intersectional feminism, this just isn’t okay.

Then there is a scene where the main characters love interest refers to herself as butch and instantly the main character freaks out, tells her she’s not butch, she’s “all woman” to her (because she has breasts. And a vagina. So she’s of course, definitely not butch, because it’s a bad word. Also, god forbid trans butch lesbians exist. Woman = Vagina & Boobs. Yup. That’s totally how it works.).

And last but definitely not least, there is the constant biphobia thrown towards the main character. She’s undecided. Her sexuality is a phase. She’s actually a lesbian because she had two girlfriends. Her bisexuality is thrown at her at the same time as the accusation of being indecisive. At least this is sometimes called out, but most of the time the character just thinks this is wrong and doesn’t talk about it. It’s just really heartbreaking to read. There’s also the terrible blurb in which it says that Tabitha is not interested in boys which is, of course, complete bullshit, because she likes girls AND boys and seeing that erased in the blurb already is incredible bad.

But what annoys me most is that this book had such a great premise. The riot grrrl movement and how zines were used back then (so cool!) was something I really liked and what most interested me in this book when I saw it. Some parts of this were actually portrayed well. But when you want to write a book like this, a book about this time, a book about intersectional feminism, then you really need to be careful not to include as many micro-aggressions as they are shown here, mostly without being really challenged. I definitely can’t recommend this book to people who know what intersectionality means or who are non-white, LGBT+ and/or survivors of sexual abuse and assault.

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