Smile Politely

Book review: You are among friends

Give this book to every adolescent girl you know. For Valentine’s Day. For eighth-grade graduation. For just being her.

Lindsey Markel’s You Are Among Friends is the book I wish I read when I was 13, navigating the oily land mines of puberty: periods, zits, popularity, bullies, and body image. At 20 pages, it’s a short read, but it’s rich with knowing reassurance and encouragement. She seems to say, yeah, adolescence sucks — but you’re awesome and here’s what I can tell you to make it more palatable.

This is not Paris Hilton’s advice about “how to live like an heiress” or Mary-Kate’s tips on fashion. Instead, Markel is a young, approachable woman that teenage girls can really look up to — a Champaign resident (and former editor at Smile Politely), a writer, an actress in local theater, and a dedicated grad student.

At the beginning, Markel adamantly, lovingly tells her readers: “You are not alone; you will never be alone. Whatever you feel and whatever you fear, you are among friends.” It’s a big welcome hug, immediately communicating trust and confidentiality. While telling her readers how extraordinary they are, she also urges them to take action — take photographs, make websites, create zines, and find mentors: “Be relentless and passionate with what you create, because nobody else will do it for you.”

But it’s not just cheerleading. Markel is brutally honest. She discusses masturbation candidly, and instructs her readers to become familiar with their bodies. She promotes open discussion about sexuality. And she’s blunt: “There are some very serious sides to sex, such as STDs and…pregnancy. These are literally not to be fucked with.”

Markel includes wonderful resources in the back, including recommended fiction, nonfiction, zines, and bands (I especially like “Liz Phair [whitechocolatespaceegg and earlier]”). She also saves a few blank pages for notes, with questions to get readers inspired.

When the cover of People features the blonde, busty, 23-year-old Heidi Pratt bragging about her 10 cosmetic surgeries, girls need books like You Are Among Friends to remind them that they’re fine just the way they are.

Thank you, Lindsey, for help keeping the fires of feminism stoked.

By the way, you can get You Are Among Friends here. You can also read her blog here.

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