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Melissa Febos

Bloomsbury Publishing

Girlhood Download image

ISBN10: 1635572525
ISBN13: 9781635572520


336 Pages



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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.


Praise for Girlhood

“[Febos] picks at the ways women are taught to be 'female'—and what it means to remove oneself from such expectations. Febos' lyrical, meditative writing makes it all the easier to ponder her critical questions and explorations.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Her whole life, writer Melissa Febos has been forced to understand her body primarily through other people's conceptions of it. If that sounds familiar to you, Girlhood—a mix of investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship around what it truly means to be a young woman—might be right up your alley. (And if you're a parent struggling to understand what your teenage daughter is going through, it's safe to say this book might help.)”Vogue

“Intellectual and erotic, engaging and empowering, Girlhood lays bare the process of unlearning the most deeply ingrained lesson of female adolescence—that we ourselves are not masters of our own domain—and offers us exquisite, ferocious language for embracing self-pleasure and self-love.”O, the Oprah Magazine

“Febos is a balletic memoirist whose capacious gaze can take in so many seemingly disparate things and unfurl them in a graceful, cohesive way . . . she dances deftly between her own autobiography and exposing the pervasive social history that marked—sometimes literally—her personal experiences and those of many, many women.”OprahDaily

“Febos is widely considered one of the most respected and beloved contemporary essayists and memoirists, and a pillar of thought and encouragement for other writers. The essays in her latest collection read like sculpture: sentences chiseled and combined into profound, moving works. Whether she's writing about a childhood soccer game or a cuddle party or a hike in France or sex or Greek myth or addiction, her essays dance between philosophical, humorous, and sensual.”BOMB Magazine

“Vibrant, haunting, and absolutely unforgettable . . . a modern masterpiece of brutally honest self-reflection . . . These essays will prompt readers to look critically at their own relationships to consent, and to grow attached to Febos as she examines adolescence through the lens of an adult who has recouped and recovered.”Bust Magazine

Girlhood, the dazzling new essay collection by Melissa Febos, captures the potency of a woman's adolescence-an experience that is at once singular and universal, familiar and uncharted, ordinary and remarkable. By plumbing the depths of her own coming of age, interviewing other women about their early sexual encounters, and interrogating depictions of female sexuality in literature and film, the author unravels the stories women learn to tell—and believe—about themselves.”Guernica

“Melissa Febos is a precise, visceral chronicler of what it means to be a woman in the world . . . [Girlhood] is fierce and lyrical, furious and tender; a vital read for anyone figuring out who they really are, and have always been.”Refinery29

“To counter society's patriarchal standards and stereotypes enmesh girls in a web of unreachable expectations of mind, body and soul, Melissa Febos offers ideas to disrupt the normative narratives surrounding girlhood and encourages us to recreate ourselves according to ourselves.”Ms.

“Melissa Febos brings lyric and merciless scrutiny to how women are conditioned to accept misogyny as their due . . . By drawing upon cultural materials for her kaleidoscopic investigation, Febos does for girlhood what Maggie Nelson did for pregnancy in The Argonauts.”The Rumpus

“For her third book, Melissa Febos has turned the lens on her own adolescence. Using a blend of theory and autobiography, she recounts her difficult early sexual experiences and time spent as a dominatrix and questions the patriarchal forces that shape the collective girlhood narrative.”Vulture

“Drawing on personal history, cultural analysis, and investigative reporting, Melissa Febos interrogates the meaning of girlhood, the narratives we've been sold, and the realities of growing up a woman.”Buzzfeed

“In eight haunting essays, Melissa Febos unearths the trauma of her adolescence as she picks apart the burdens that accompany being a young woman. In sharing the darkness that clouded her coming of age, Febos asks pointed questions about the expectations placed on women and how they impact a person's sense of self.”Time

“How do you heal from the pain of growing up? This question, refracted through a feminist lens, lies at the heart of Melissa Febos's essay collection, Girlhood. With psychological clarity and emotional precision, Febos revisits the past to rewrite the future.”Columbia Journal

“What a delight it is to read the new book of a writer you adore and be knocked out all over again. With Girlhood, one of the queer community's favorite writers, Melissa Febos, has written her career-best.”The Advocate

“Fusing memoir, cultural commentary, and research, critically-acclaimed writer Febos explores the beauty and discomfort of girlhood (and womanhood) in her newest essay collection. With her signature lyricism and haunting honesty, the essays explore the ways girls inherit, create, interrogate, and rewrite the narratives of their lives.”The Millions

“Anyone raised as a girl will be able to relate to something in Girlhood, and those who weren't will marvel at this book's eye-opening, transformative perspective.”BookPage

“Melissa Febos's writing is always luminous, fearless, and blazing with intelligence.”Lit Hub

“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

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

“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

“Melissa Febos just revived me in the most spectacular way. Girlhood blazes through the stories we've been told with a dazzling fury and a brilliant beauty. Whatever we are or were, this is a map to a new becoming. Between the intellect and the body a third term emerges, dissolving binaries and reinventing the space of erotic power and creativity. A fuck-all guide to resilience and reclamation, a breathtaking reimagination of who we might be in spite of what we've been told. Girlhood will bring you back to life.”Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Verge

“At once intimate and didactic, lyric and wise, Girlhood is a must-read hybrid text for women looking to define themselves from the inside. This book is an exorcism of social messaging and external gazes, and Febos is a warm and erudite exorcist.”—Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces

“Reading Girlhood felt like having a spell whispered into my ear. You carve yourself, Melissa Febos writes, and the phrase becomes command, elegy, incantation. In these pages she conjures not only the past, but an allegory of experience at once universal and exquisitely personal. Intimate, urgent, and stunningly beautiful, this is a book that will be passed from hand to hand, from heart to heart.”—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body

“American patriarchy teaches so many of us to hate our own bodies and stifle our own desires—to make ourselves smaller in every way. Girlhood is a smart, fierce, gloriously sensual critique of these lessons by a writer who has fought hard to unlearn them. Thank you, Melissa Febos, for charting this magnificent route of queer feminist resistance!”—Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks

“A gorgeously written, perfectly calibrated investigation into the traps, paths, and challenges of being female in this world. It's a stunner of a book.”—Jami Attenberg, author of All This Could Be Yours

“Lucid and timely . . . The great surprise of Girlhood is how masterfully Febos reinvents the path to womanhood, a philosopher's eye turned protectively towards the tenderest parts of the writer's former self.”—Wendy S. Walters, author of Multiple/Divide

“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

“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)

“Febos's newest collection of essays addresses misogyny from the inside out . . . With her signature rhythmic style and stream of consciousness propelling the narrative, the author's critique of becoming is as tender as it is relentless. Febos's writing possesses the same heartbreaking elegance and haunting lyricism as that of feminist authors Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran, and Carmen Maria Machado.”Library Journal

“Raw and unflinching, this dark coming-of-age story impresses at every turn.”Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Melissa Febos

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.

Caitlin Delohery

Melissa Febos

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