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Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices From Marinalized Spaces

Jason Ross
Date Published: 
October 01, 2006

The first thing that will strike you when you read Growing Up Girl is its honesty. Like the first time you heard L-Boogie’s Ex-Factor, and she painfully uttered…”It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard…loving is like a battle, and we both end up with scars”. The sincerity in this collection of short stories, poems, and essays is undeniable. Author/Editor Michelle Sewell has masterfully woven the stories and life experiences of a varied kaleidoscope of women spanning the globe. From ages 14 to 60, Growing Up Girl stitches together the emotions, struggles, and triumphs of these women into a beautiful quilt that is womanhood. The universality of the anthology makes clear the connection of “girlhood” no matter the geography, race, or ethnicity of the said “girl.”

In the heartbreaking short story, “The Lunchbox” by Vietnamese writer Dinh Vong, the politics of the elementary school lunchroom and that outsider space that we have all inhabited unceremoniously comes crashing together. When young Lily (her new American name) decides that a lunchbox is the passport into the inner circle of her mean-spirited classmates, she also has to reconcile what she will have to leave behind to get what she thinks she wants. While in the acerbic essay, “Come Be Black for Me”, author Ethel Morgan Smith turns the outsider position on its head and speaks the truth of what it means to function in an all white academic setting and what is expected of you when you are “the only one.”

The anthology also sways between despair and resilience. One can’t help but feel the raw helplessness in 16 year-old Brittany Ball’s, “Ghetto Girl’s Story”, as she describes the plight of a 10 year-old girl turning tricks to survive, then being forced to have an abortion at the end of a coat hanger by the hands of an abusive 23 year-old boyfriend, and ultimately contracting AIDS at age 15.

Poetic mantra

Although Growing up Girl dispels the image of women as emotional, vulnerable victims, there is a sense through these poems and stories, that “a girlchild is not safe in her own house.” There are over 80 contributors in the book and almost all speak to some level of victimization that girls must endure as they try to make their way to the finish line of womanhood. I think it says something about a society that allows sexual abuse, domestic violence, and apathy to run rampant on such a level, and that girls feel they must traverse these landmines on their own.

Ultimately Growing Up Girl exemplifies the strength, beauty, and three-dimensional depth of what it is to be a woman. Girls are strong and confident, powerful and complex, and when given the room and safety can absolutely develop personal strengths and independence. I believe this remarkable “handbook” should be an addition to every library, mentoring program, and detention center. Its capacity to spark honest dialogue is undeniable and I believe it fulfills Michelle’s reassuring poetic mantra in “Girlchild”, “that there is something amazingly unique about a child born a girl—and you will always find favor.”

Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices From Marinalized Spaces
Edited by Michelle Sewell
(GirlChild Press, 2006)