I read much of Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl with a feeling of horror. I hope Krauth doesn’t take that the wrong way because horror is a very powerful thing. And when you can make someone feel horrified (for hours) with your words, then I suspect you’re a very good writer.
Just_a_girl is not a gruesome book, nor is it violent or particularly explicit. However, it was passages such as the following that made me feel ill (with fear and with dread for my own children) –
“Davo’s pants dangle off and his mouth is open like a giant groper. His dick hangs like a little squishy balloon. Someone’s written FAGGOT on his forehead in glittery silver pen. I tag him and post the image on my profile. I send it to my Friends. I love Facebook. It’s all about sharing.”
“Some girls will fuck older guys for an iPod or 300 bucks. But I’m not like that, I want something more. And besides, dad gave me an iPod for my birthday. So I’m not that desperate.”
Just_a_girl has been described as a “Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam” – I put these comparisons to the back of my mind after my recent Jasper Jones/ To Kill a Mockingbird experience but I needn’t have worried. Krauth makes modern currency of themes started in Lolita and Puberty Blues.
Briefly, it’s the story of 14-year-old girl Layla. It’s a coming-of-age story with a harsh modern edge – Layla cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. She thinks of her sexuality as a tool (and yet is frighteningly naive in many ways).
“When he puts the keycard in the slot and the lights come on I think I’m in love.”
Interwoven with Layla’s story is that of Margot, her mother, and Tadashi, a lonely Japanese man who has just purchased a life-sized doll as his companion.
Krauth succeeds in exposing the big questions about modern life through her three main characters. It’s a story about isolation in what is now our over-connected world. It’s a story about testing boundaries (for example Layla is repulsed by her sleazy boss and yet posts a clip of herself undressing on YouTube).
There’s so much I could say about Krauth’s writing style, notably Layla’s staccato delivery (it was spot-on) –
“On our first train date it was front carriage. Bad hair day. I was sweaty in my tunic. The one that doesn’t breathe when it’s wet. His green eyes the same as my cat Pudnud’s. She’s dead now. Dark curly hair and great shoes. Skateboard dreams. He lent over and swirled his tongue into my world. Our kiss went from Glenbrook to Emu Plains.”
But this book will stay in my mind for all that it says about growing up negotiating the digital world. I have often said to friends, “Thank God we didn’t have Twitter or Facebook when we were 18!” We did some spectacularly stupid things and, apart from these things making great fodder for 21st speeches, they remain simply memories. Not so for kids who are 18 today – social media, webcams and what I think is the biggest culprit, cameras on mobile phones – make a permanent record of less-than-stellar moments.
I sincerely hope that by the time my kids are teens, responsible use of their devices will be ingrained. For example, we insist that they ask a person’s permission before taking their photo, and that they show them the result. Likewise, we caution that they shouldn’t email anything that they wouldn’t want read out at school assembly. Hopefully others will extend them the same courtesy.
How will our digital identities look in the future? Who can predict, particularly when social media changes so quickly (although I do think the positives and negatives are all the same regardless of whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat is your thing). I do think that our digital identity might not matter as much as conservatives like to lecture about – your social media history being scrutinised when you go for a job? Yes, at present, but in another twenty years? Highly likely the person running the job interview has just as many photos on Facebook that they wish weren’t there as the candidate.
My copy of just_a_girl was supplied by the publisher, UWA Publishing, in exchange for an honest review.
4/5 I won’t be forgetting Layla anytime soon.
“Mum cooks the same things on the same nights each week…. Every now and then she’ll test out a new ingredient. Like artichokes. Or capers. But she owns a lot of cookbooks that say ‘Get the meal on the table in 30 minutes’.”
In the spirit of getting a meal on the table in thirty minutes, my go-to dish is Penne Arrabiata. I don’t use a recipe. I often add bacon to the cooking onions stage to make it off-the-scale-delicious.