Rose of No Man's Land

Bay Area memoirist writes her first self-professed novel.

Fresh and fast, Michelle Tea's self- proclaimed first novel treats us to one breathless day in the life of 14-year-old Trisha and her new best (only, unabashedly crazy) friend, Rose, as they do just about everything your mom, teachers, religious leaders, and older sisters warned you against. Trisha's mom is not paying attention, though. She moves too slowly to notice, mostly glued to the couch and Jerry Springer, making the occasional pronouncements praising her chain-smoking, mulleted, ramen-eating boyfriend for not molesting her children. This prompts narrator Trisha to note that she and her mother have "really different standards." Trisha doesn't have much to lose, and Tea's great accomplishment here is extracting her manic, cynical teenage voice as she observes, reacts, and finally enacts a calculated strategy to escape her mundane Massachusetts home. All of Tea's mostly autobiographical, remarkably enjoyable prior work (Valencia, The Beautiful) bears some resemblance to Trisha's speed-talking, non-linear- thinking, hold-nothing-back yet cannily truth-speaking voice. Coming from the mouth of a teenager, it is ever-so-slightly unbelievably self-aware. But why quibble when you're scrunched down in your seat on the bus, not able to put the book down, giggling at Trisha commenting on her mom's praise for the aforementioned nonmolester: "She says it like we, me and Kristy [her sister], should drop to our knees and kiss the peeling linoleum and prostrate ourselves to the patron saint of creepy dudes for sending us such a winner." Eventually Trisha finds a partner in Rose for her escape plans, which are no less entertainingly described. Yet there's more to the book than the breakneck action of two girls out on the town with no limits, few inhibitions, crystal meth, and panties full of cash. Amidst the mayhem, Tea adroitly slips in critiques of the standards and stereotypes of teenage girlhood—from working a hellish job at the mall to the dark side of maintaining über-popularity. In this way, Tea's novel transcends the category of young-adult fiction and escapes being some alternate-universe version of teenage chick lit. Pay attention until the very last page, sister; it's worth it.

 
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