Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Manstealing for Fat Girls

I've just finished reading Manstealing for Fat Girls, an addictively readable young-adult novel by Michelle Embree. I absolutely LOVED it, it's fantastically good. The first-person voice is amazing--the narrator's funny and warm and entirely persuasive and completely likeable--and it's got the right kind of grotesquerie to really conjure up the memory of life as a young person. Lots of funny parts, lots of really moving ones.

The book's published by Soft Skull (who also published my first novel); it's got the best of the small-press vibe, of course (lots of teenage lesbians and drug use and good music), but it also has that appeal that makes you feel like you are reading a book that MILLIONS OF PEOPLE would and should enjoy. It's funny, I was talking about this last week with
Sarah Weinman, wishing that someone would have told me at the time as I was finishing Heredity that it was a great small-press book and that I should really stop wasting my time trying to find an agent and a big book deal and stuff and go directly to independent presses and then get myself an agent once I actually was in line for a contract. All I wanted was for it to get published, but the difference between an agent and a teacher (I am a teacher through and through, could never be an agent) is that the agent says "Sorry, you're a great writer, send me your next project, but I just didn't fall in love with this one" and the teacher sits you down and says "This is great, it's pretty much finished, but let me explain to you realistically what your prospects are for it and what you should do next." I am actually a horrifyingly pragmatic advice-giver in my job, mostly because I am so often seized with the sense of how much more I understand now than I did ten years ago about how to get things to work right. It's partly just that I am bossy, of course, and afflicted by a passion for helping (it's potentially rather annoying, but on the whole useful), but it's also true that there are a lot of things that everyone knows and nobody says. And there are some things you really do have to learn for yourself (like that the academic job market is pretty direly awful) but there are others that it would have been extremely useful to hear at the time.

Anyway, thanks to Richard for sending me this book and also for publishing my novel in the first place. And here's the synopsis of Manstealing for Fat Girls, if it sounds at all your kind of thing I assure you that it is even better than it sounds:

Sixteen year old Angie is called "Lezzylard" by her classmates. Her best friend Shelby is an out dyke--in a working class suburb of St. Louis in the 1980s--while the third member of their trio can't shoplift because security guards always fixate on her one enormous breast. Angie's mother is marrying a man with a sleazy mustache who puts up NASCAR posters in the living room while her friend Inez, the school's pot-dealer and sometime beer whore, stands outside convenience stories, pretending to talk on payphones in order to yell things like, "I'm not having your RAPE BABY, DAD! Give me the money for an abortion or I'm gonna have you KILLED!" Inez, it turns out, is also on a diet.

Angie is teased by classmates, than platonically seduced by the prettiest girl in school, who is anorexic and wants to make imaginary grocery lists with her. To top it off, she told fat-baiting Mindy Overton to "just puke up your lunch and kill yourself already," prompting the school's most brutal popular kids to decide she needs to be taken down a notch. Just how is Angie supposed to get though the next two months?

Complete with acid dealing high schoolers and characters obsessed with FDS "pussy deodorant," Manstealing for Fat Girls takes Mean Girls and makes it scarier and funnier, more political and closer to the bone.