For readers of Maggie Nelson and Leslie Jamison, a poignant, universal story of the forces that shape girls, and of an America where women are rarely free to define themselves.
In her dazzling new book, critically acclaimed author Melissa Febos examines the narratives women are told about what it means to be a girl and the realities of growing up female in a world that prioritizes the feelings, perceptions, and power of men at girls' expense.
Febos was eleven when her body began to change, and almost overnight, the way people spoke to, looked at, and treated her changed with it. As she grew, she defined herself based on these perceptions and by the romantic relationships she threw herself into headlong. But in her thirties, Febos began to question 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, hurt, and grief women have long been taught to deny.
Fierce and breathtaking, written with Febos' characteristic lyricism and searing insights, Girlhood is an anthem for women, a powerful exploration of the forces that seek to confine them, and a searing study of the transitions into and away from girlhood on a lifelong journey of discovery.
About the Author
Melissa Febos is the author of the memoirs Whip Smart and Abandon Me. Her essays have appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, Lenny Letter, and elsewhere. Portions from Abandon Me have won prizes from Prairie Schooner, StoryQuarterly, and twice earned notice in the 2015 Best American Essays anthology. The recipient of fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Ragdale, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Febos serves on the directorial board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and is an assistant professor of creative writing at Monmouth University. She lives in Brooklyn. melissafebos.com
“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 a smart, fierce, gloriously sensual critique.” —Leni Zumas, author of RED CLOCKS
“An exquisite collection. Febos's insight is devastating, the examinations of her world – from the female body, queerness, consent, slutshaming, 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
“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
“Girlhood blazes through the stories we've been told with a dazzling fury and a brilliant beauty. 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
“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
“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 THE FACT OF A BODY
“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
“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 MULTIPLY/ DIVIDE