In a strange way, I’m slightly gutted that my awkward teen/childhood has been trumped. I’m not usually that competitive about ‘who’s more of a loser’ but I thought my 14-year-old self was the worst one out there, surely. Surely all those weird dreams, getting into trouble at school, experimenting with baggy jeans and black lipstick and fancying the grossiest of boys made me the worst teen ever?
After reading Lena’s poignant memoir Not That Kind of Girl I no longer feel embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated anymore, about anything actually (which is quite extraordinary: I have some extremely cringe memories). Instead, I feel purged of my sins and at one with my awkward yesteryears because actually, Lena has tied up all that ‘shame’ into a book, put a bow around it and pushed it out into the world. The result being that now ALL my “skeletons” that used to reside in the closet are now walking around, quite confidently, introducing themselves to anyone they meet. ‘I used to do THIS, how grim is that! I win!’ The internet has allowed us to over-share (or should I say encouraged), and in fact it’s therapeutic. This book gives any millennial the confidence to say: YEAH I WAS WEIRD, WEREN’T WE ALL? And for that reason alone, I applaud it. It’s hard to be honest, especially when your past isn’t that far behind you. Plus, a lot of bad memories unfortunately exist somewhere, digitally online.
Here are the main themes that I took away from the book:
Being a teenager is literally the worst
NTKOG took me firmly by the hand and forced me down a #dark Memory Lane. In some chapters it all came suddenly spiralling back, lots of neglected memories that were once wedged into the hidden corners of my mind where suddenly staring at me, in loud technicolour. This resulted in a mixed feeling of gratitude to Lena and slight resentment: her sharp memory has now made me face up to my past. All those times I felt screwed over as a teen, not yet in control of myself enough to know how to go about solving issues, big or small. Because after all, who wants to face up to potentially the worst years of your life whilst curling up with a book? Those situations in which you test your parents (lying at house parties, getting into trouble, bad school reports, screaming matches) and leave you wondering why they still love you, but they always do – all that drama, all that worry. All of those hormones. It’s these teething periods of being so hormonal that you could scream the house down and cry in the corner of your bathroom for weeks, just because someone commented on your new hairstyle. Ridiculous in hindsight, but oh so real and raw at the time. I remember thinking to myself you must promise to remember how f*cking awful it is being a teenager for when you have your own teenage nephew/niece/daughter/son to look after one day. Never make them feel ridiculous.
Don’t deny that us Millennials are all massive geeks
Every mention of Lena’s teen milestones (like first sex, first period, first best friend), and even the smaller things like remembering Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and odd childhood traits like compulsive lying, made me remember things I’d sort of repressed. Things that, as an adult, I wouldn’t ever willingly need revisit. Even smaller seemly insignificant things like the moment when you were first introduced to a computer. Can you remember where you were when you first sat down onto a computer and ‘bonded’ with it? This big alien white box whirring and purring in the corner of a room, sitting there unused, until suddenly, it all clicks. You are communicating with people, really easily and it’s fun. All those days and nights of “socialising”: i.e. talking to your friends online or invited friends over to sit in front of the screen with you. Talking to boys on MSN together was your social meet-up, except you wouldn’t talk to each other. We practically taught ourselves HTML on Myspace only a few months after exiting the womb. Thinking about how much of life has been spent typing actual makes me feel a bit funny.
Really, really stupid things can disguise as being ‘fashionable’
Lena talks about things that A LOT of girls have done, whether or not you would probably ever own up to it. I too, “attempted” bulimia a few times, and like Lena, gorged and “dry heaved” with nothing coming out. It’s a serious matter of course, and I know true sufferers of this illness. But somehow I found myself laughing inwardly at this paragraph, at my stupidity, at my desperateness. In a similar situation to mine, Lena eats loads of crap food, then falls asleep by accident, and then tries this pathetic attempt at being bulimic for the day but it (fortunately) doesn’t quite work out. It totally sums up the strange teenage landscape of different trial and errors. I tried to be a vegan, vegetarian, not-eating, goth, hippy, gluten-free, Dukan diet, only-eating-Weetabix-diet, all for no longer than a few days. Of course for many others, an eating disorder it isn’t a ridiculous “fashionable thing to try out once”, it can turn into a proper problem which deserves separate attention, but this bit did relate to me, the fact I definitely tried and failed so many diet tactics, for no real reason.
It’s not all on you
“Going along with it” is a major theme of the book too. A difficult theme. Upon reading the story of Lena and Barry, I nodded along at the awful situation she finds herself in after a party. It goes a bit like this: you’re not entirely sure how you got there. You don’t really know what’s happening. You sort of trust this person, but you sort of don’t. You think ‘what’s the worst that can happen’. Luckily, in my situations I had managed to escape. But I could totally relate to these types of episodes, in which guys who lead you astray and you just follow their lead, plodding along. Walking right into the danger zone. Because in the drunken haze you see no warning signs, it’s all fun, and exciting, silly and strange, rather rebellious. But then: you realise, along with Lena’s own reflection, and her friends whom she confides in – that these situations can lead to rape. Suddenly it is extremely black and white, there, written down on the page. However reading the situation, where Lena appears to casually go along with it, you see how it was a spider’s web, a clear trap. A blurry night that can play mind-games with you for years, even though you know deep down it’s not your fault, it’s easy to doubt yourself on a hungover afternoon.
I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg for Lena. She’s warmly introduced us to her talent: her amazing, friendly writing style. It excites me that there is so much more where this came from, more books, many more books. Her writing makes us feel like we know Lena a little better. I do think that this book is for a very specific audience. I’ve read some reviews by much older journalists who just don’t seem to get it – they think it’s self-indulged or cliche. But I disagree. In fact I think it’s cliche that their reviews just comment on her monetary advance from the publisher or dryly comparing it to “the Mindy’s” and “the Tina Fey’s” (who I love, by the way, but why does everything always need the same old reference point?). These reviews don’t comment on how the book made them feel.
I think NTKOG reviews a niche period of time and there are ‘in-jokes’ for Gen Y readers only. I think it’s brave. She never had to open up to all of us, but like the rest of our generation, we like to overshare. We almost need to overshare. “I have to tell my stories in order to stay sane,” Lena wrote. And if like me, reading this book makes you feel even a little bit more OK with yourself, including all your weird and wobbly bits, then that is money well spent, in my opinion.