Synopses & Reviews
Named a Most Anticipated Book by:
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A gripping set of stories about the forces that shape girls and the adults they become. A wise and brilliant guide to transforming the self and our society.
In her powerful new book, critically acclaimed author Melissa Febos examines the narratives women are told about what it means to be female and what it takes to free oneself from them.
When her body began to change at eleven years old, Febos understood immediately that her meaning to other people had changed with it. By her teens, she defined herself based on these perceptions and by the romantic relationships she threw herself into headlong. Over time, Febos increasingly questioned the stories she'd been told about herself and the habits and defenses she'd developed over years of trying to meet others' expectations. The values she and so many other women had learned in girlhood did not prioritize their personal safety, happiness, or freedom, and she set out to reframe those values and beliefs.
Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny.
Written with Febos' characteristic precision, lyricism, and insight, Girlhood is a philosophical treatise, an anthem for women, and a searing study of the transitions into and away from girlhood, toward a chosen self.
“Profound and gloriously provocative, this book...transforms the wounds and scars of lived female experience into an occasion for self-understanding that is both honest and lyrical. Consistently illuminating, unabashedly ferocious writing.” Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“In this book of liberating inquiry and divine depth, Febos again and again connects the constellations of herself and the world she and all women must learn to live in.” Booklist (Starred Review)
“These seven illuminating essays unpack the experiences of living as a female under the destructive influence of patriarchal norms and warped ideals of femininity.” Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)
“In this book, Febos proves herself to be one of the great documenters of the terrible and exquisite depths of girlhood. Here, that terrible and beautiful aeon is dissected, sung over, explored like ancient ruins. These essays are moss and iron — hard and beautiful — and struck through with Febos' signature brilliance and power and grace. An essential, heartbreaking project.” Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House and Her Body and Other Parties
“I read Girlhood in a long, marvelous guzzle and plan to teach it. Its language and emotional candor deepen the conversation on sexuality and the horrible liberties taken when we're way too young to consent. But there's not an ounce of victim in Melissa Febos and she's a hero without ever trying to be. A classic!” Mary Karr
“Febos is an intoxicating writer, but I found myself most grateful for the vivid clarity of her thinking...disquisitive and catalytic….Febos's education is a kind I surely could have used.” The Atlantic
“By following Febos's distinct paths between the past and present, we might realize there's room to forge our own, and that we've just been handed a flashlight that helps illuminate the way.” NPR
“Melissa Febos is part poet, part theorist, and all writer. In this lyrical, searching, profound, and personal collection, Febos examines childhood, femaleness, and love in its many forms with a sensuous ferocity that is all her own.” Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply and Female Chauvinist Pigs
“Girlhood is an exquisite collection. In lapidary, lucid prose, Melissa Febos dissects the traumas, terrors, and pleasures of the fraught passage from girl to woman. Febos's insight is devastating, the examinations of her world — from the female body, queerness, consent, slut-shaming, and intimacy — are rigorous and compassionate. This is a book for mothers, daughters, and our deepest selves, a true light in the dark.” Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter
About the Author
Melissa Febos is the author of the memoir Whip Smart and two essay collections: Abandon Me and Girlhood. The inaugural winner of the Jeanne Córdova Nonfiction Award from LAMBDA Literary and the recipient of fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The BAU Institute, Vermont Studio Center, The Barbara Deming Foundation, and others; her essays have appeared in The Paris Review, The Believer, McSweeney's Quarterly, Granta, Sewanee Review, Tin House, The Sun, and The New York Times. She is an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the Nonfiction Writing Program.