M. EARL SMITH Reviews
Girl Gang by Juliet Cook
(Blood Pudding Press, 2007)
There is a thread in the literary world that has always separated the artists from the writers, the authors from the illustrators, and those who paint a picture with our words from those that paint a picture with their brush. Every work that Juliet Cook does seems to blow this idea out of the water, and I must confess that I get a little giddy when another one of her works makes it into my hands. How, then, that 2007’s Girl Gang has evaded me for this long is beyond me.
Bound in pink ribbon, the lavender cover immediately grabs one’s attention, as if to hearken back to the days of fairy tales and properly gendered toys. And while the silver-shimmer-glitter pages add an aesthetic all its own, one would be mistaken to think that this would be a leisurely stroll down the hallowed halls of feminine stereotypes.
This book grabs your stereotypes by the balls and force-feeds them to you.
This book cuts your fingers off for daring to grab it by the pussy.
This book takes your ideas about gender identity and what it is to be a girl, and throws it out the window, along with your damn provincial thoughts.
Yet the book is not badassery just for the sake of badassery. The book talks about unreasonable beauty standards (“small breasts” in “Girl Gang #1; “like maybe 34 is too old to be involved in a girl gang” from “Girl Gang #5”), sexual desires (“This week she is strangely riveted/by yet another tattoo parlor stud” and “three hairy beefcakes for every hole” from “Girl Gang #4”) and even death, with “Girl Gang #10” paying homage to grisly car wrecks, suicide, crushing by monster truck, and by disappearing. With but one character left, we can’t help but to wonder if we are seeing the demise of several slices of one personality, or the permanent fracture of a gang.
And that is the beauty therein. The paradoxes within this group mirror the changes in society and how the ideas of feminism and sexuality are viewed. This volume is unafraid to be what it enjoys being, all while challenging the conventions of the past and the stereotypes of the present. Avoiding the abstract, this volume takes metaphor and tells the story of a star-crossed group of women and personalities, making three dimensional the type of things that the world has preferred to see put quietly in the corner. Such badassery, however, refuses to be silences, and in this day and age, it’s music to my ears.
M. Earl Smith is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, with a Masters of Arts in English Literature. He currently teaches English at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, while pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. His current research interests include 16th-19th century manuscripts as well as children’s and young adult literature.