Phoebe Gloeckner’s “Diary of a Teenage Girl” is “An Account in Words and Pictures” of Minnie, a fifteen-year-old who is having an affair with Monroe, a 35-year-old man who is also her mother’s lover. What makes this story so different from other “child abuse memoirs” is that not once in the book does young Minnie (or anyone) claim she was coerced, abused, molested or raped. In fact, throughout the book, we are led to believe that Minnie was an active and willing participant in the relationship.
There are endless coming-of-age stories depicting young boys enjoying their budding sexuality without shame, many of them lusting after women twice their age. Usually we are given a view of women as sexual objects, yet deny that they are sexual creatures. This is a story of a teenage girl shamelessly exploring her sexuality with enthusiasm. She is intelligent, self aware, amorous, sexually liberated, without the usual consequential disaster normally associated with these traits. This is one reason why “Diary” is such a unique novel.
This 300 page book switches between prose and graphic novel, starting with a detailed drawing of Minnie, dark long hair with short bangs, big eyes looking up into the sky. The words on the opposite page read:
“I DON’T REMEMBER BEING BORN. I was a very ugly child. My appearance has not improved so I suppose it was a lucky break when he was attracted by my youthfulness.”
You can tell in the drawing that Minnie is not bad looking, but it is easy to get right into her mind-set, because what 15-year-old ever knows she is attractive? We also understand that this character has some insight because she knows it was her youthfulness that attracted the attention of Monroe.
Set in San Francisco during 1976, the adults in Minnie’s life have no boundaries, or any understanding of her emotions, needs or intelligence. Her best friend Kimmie is the epitome of all Minnie dislikes in herself. As we get to know Monroe better, we understand that he is an insecure, needy, emotional child at best, and at worst, he is an all-out child molester who should be imprisoned for life.
This book is unique, powerful and not for the tenderhearted. If you are bored reading about women that are usually the victim, always innocent, never responsible for their own decisions or their own lot in life, you will find this story refreshing in its truthfulness. The artwork is beautiful and detailed. It’s no surprise the author/artist works as a medical illustrator.
I also read “A Child’s Life,” Phoebe’s previous book published in 1998. The graphic novel was classified as pornography and refused entry by customs officials in both France and England. It reads to me as the story-board for the 2002 “Diary”; if you are planning on reading both, start with “A Child’s Life,” not because it’s necessary for the story line, but because reading it after “Diary” might be redundant or anti-climatic.
Favorite quote – “I wish I knew someone who was happy” or “My youth is something that cannot be helped.”
In 2015, “Diary of a Teenage Girl” was made into a movie previously reviewed on the L.A. Beat by Billy Bennight.