Books + Comics

Work it, Own It, Use It

The art of powering through.

Election
Tom Perrotta
1998, Berkley Books

The three suburban kids in Tom Perrotta’s Election want to be president of Winwood High for very different reasons. Seemingly perfect Tracy is driven by raw ambition. Paul has been tricked into running by a teacher who can’t stand Tracy or what she represents. And Tammy just wants to get back at her brother (Paul) and his new girlfriend, who used to be her almost-girlfriend. Perrotta draws parallels between this and the corrupt power-grab that is real world politics, showing that there aren’t as many differences between the two as you might think. If you’re a fan of the movie adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon, I dare say you’ll enjoy this even more—both versions have the same darkly comic tone, but the characters are more human and relatable here, which gives the story a tinge of sadness that was missing from the film. The plot unfolds through a series of first person accounts of the election by all of the main players, and the narration has a confessional quality. It’s all very juicy. Even though I read it after having seen the movie, I was so wrapped up in it that I finished the whole thing in an afternoon. —Amber

Buffalo: The Life and Style of Ray Petri
Jamie Morgan and Mitzi Lorenze
2000, powerHouse

Before I saw this book, I thought menswear could only ever be boring and that you couldn’t cut out words from newspapers and stick ’em on your jacket as an accessory. I was wrong on both counts! Buffalo is a selection of photos by Ray Petri and the other stylists and photographers that he made a part of his crew, who together had a knack for finding weirdos on the street (or, you know, Naomi Campbell before she was NAOMI CAMPBELL), dressing them up in a combination of sportswear and suits and newspaper clippings and weird ’80s poet hats (which somehow TOTALLY WORKED), and snapping them for British magazines like i-D and The Face. Nowadays I am accustomed to seeing six-year-olds with T-shirts that say “WISCONSIN DELLS!” in Sex Pistols-style, ransom-note writing, but despite this trickling down of “anti-fashion” ideas that started out as subversive, and despite the ’80s poet hats, this book feels fresh every time I look at it. There are a couple of nice essays paying tribute to Petri from other stylists and photographers, which will probably make you feel both really sad and really inspired. —Tavi

The Rules of Attraction
Bret Easton Ellis
1987, Simon & Schuster

Imagine all of the craziest people from your high school had the power to do as they pleased, but were even better-looking and more well-read? That’s basically college, according to Bret Easton Ellis. Every character in The Rules of Attraction is pretty despicable, but that’s the point, or part of it. The book doesn’t tell a traditional story, with a beginning or end, but just drops you amidst a babbling gaggle of rich, selfish, pathetic, narcissistic college students who are unprepared for adulthood. A tiny liberal arts university in the 1980s becomes a twisted playground of all-night parties, plentiful drugs, and zero responsibility, so everyone makes mistake after mistake and tries not to learn anything. It’s like a million tiny car wrecks, and written so casually that even though they sound a little like cautionary tales, there’s something exciting, and even enviable, about all the drama. —Joe

Bastard Out of Carolina
Dorothy Allison
1993, Penguin

Ruth Anne Boatwright, or Bone as she’s always been called, has been saddled with a label since the day she was born: the state of South Carolina stamped “illegitimate” on her birth certificate and every time her young mother, Anney, goes back to get it changed, she is denied. She comes from a poor, hard-drinking Southern family with lots of stories, which 13-year-old Bone relates in such vivid detail you feel like you are there in Greenville County, seeing the beauty and the ugliness through her eyes—and feeling the abuse that she endures. Bone is a fighter and a survivor and her story is one of the most powerful I’ve ever read. Author Dorothy Allison is definitely a heavyweight champion of storytelling in the Southern tradition, up there with William Faulkner and Harper Lee, but she also writes incredible essays and poetry that relate to the themes in her first novel, and she taught me a ton about feminism, class, sexuality, and overcoming abuse. If you haven’t read her, start with this and prepare to have a new personal idol. —Stephanie

Cruddy
Lynda Barry
1999, Simon & Schuster

“On a September night in 1971, a few days after getting busted for dropping acid, a 16-year-old curls up in the corner of her ratty bedroom and begins to write.” OK, this book! I started reading it in 2001 whilst in a fragile state. It’s basically two separate narratives about Roberta Rohbeson, who is a survivor in every sense of the word. The first I was moved and terrified by. Her psychopath father kidnaps her and involves her in a murder—it’s like watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a house during the magical golden hour. Totally chilling. The second is significantly more fun. Lynda Barry has mastered the fine skill of making you laugh out loud and then want to cry. Only a brilliant visual artist and writer could create something this original. —Sonja

The Secret History
Donna Tartt
1992, Ballantine

The real Donna Tartt went to college at Bennington with the real Bret Easton Ellis, and at a young age, both wrote their first novels about a fictional version of the school. But whereas The Rules of Attraction is all sad, shallow debauchery, Tartt’s universe is deeper and creepier, following a tight-knit group of classics majors who become involved in the murder of a fellow student. The narrator is an outsider, drawn to the group and trying to figure out their complex secrets. As it starts to unravel, this little nontraditional family becomes closer and closer, pulling the reader in with them. You’ll feel a sense of doom before they do, because they always think they know better, but their arrogance is what makes them so intriguing. —Joe

The Song of the Lioness series
Tamora Pierce
1983-1988, Random House

My love affair with fantasy started with Tamora Pierce and her Song of the Lioness books, set in the fictional medieval country of Tortall. They star a kickass redhead named Alanna who really doesn’t want to go away to school to learn to be a lady. Lucky for her, she has a twin brother who is equally unhappy about becoming a knight, so they hatch a plan to switch places—he goes to school to study sorcery, and she heads to the royal palace to train as a warrior. But while her brother is able to get away with telling the school that the “female” on his entry forms was the medieval version of a typo, Alanna has it a bit harder. Women can’t become knights in Tortall, so she has to pretend to be a boy. And if she wants to make it as a knight, she has to be as strong as all the other boys. Needless to say, she succeeds, and when the kingdom is threatened, Alanna is there to save it, proving not only that girls can be fighters, they can be heroes. And once you’re done with Alanna’s story, you’ll want to read all of Tamora Pierce’s books—her girls are mages, thieves, and warriors, and every single one of them has power and isn’t afraid to use it. —Rachael

Such a Pretty Girl
Laura Wiess
2007, MTV Books

From the very first line—“They promised me nine years of safety but only gave me three”—Such a Pretty Girl puts your heart in a vice grip and doesn’t let go until long after you’ve finished reading. What was the main character, Meredith, supposed to be protected from until after her 18th birthday? The man who molested her and several other children: her father. Meredith is only 15 when he gets out of jail, and her mother welcomes him back with open arms, arranging it so that he can live in their condo complex and make them a family again. Meredith, on the other hand, wants her father to go back to jail where he can’t hurt her, her friend Andy, or anyone else ever again. Even though the subject matter of this book is incredibly tough and painful, and it may be one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read, it’s also one of the best. The writing is gorgeous and above all, Meredith is one of the strongest, most realistic female characters I have ever encountered. —Stephanie

Shameless magazine
Edited by Sheila Sampath
2004-present

I stumbled upon Shameless by complete accident at my local public library while I was still in school, nestled in the magazine section between Seventeen and Teen People. It was crucial in building my obsession with alternative media for teens that would culminate with me contributing to the magazine (and later, of course, Rookie). I like to think of Shameless as a beginner’s manual to kicking kyriarchal ass. If you want to become more heavily involved in the activist scene or are looking for a frank discussion on political and social issues that won’t condescend to you based on your age, this is a good place to start. Their recent “Youth at Work” issue contains articles like “Smashing the Stigma Around Sex Work” and “The Future of the Unionized Workforce.” You can subscribe online. —Anna

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence
Inga Muscio
1998, Seal Press

I’ve had a few copies of this book over the years. I wanted everyone to read it because it’s amazing, so I’d loan them out, but then I’d want them back. I found it at the original Ladyfest in Olympia, WA in 2000. I grew up in a quaint, repressed town—Victoria, British Columbia—and I can barely say the word in this title. That’s why this book is necessary. Muscio honors the expletive, and explains its origins, and basically how it went from being considered an all-powerful expression to a slur. Plus, you get some strange looks for reading it in public. —Sonja

Revolutionary Letters
Diane di Prima
1971, Last Gasp

The best poetry, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the kind that wrenches your gut and sticks in your mind long after you’ve read it. Reading Revolutionary Letters is like being splashed in the face with cold water, a bracing reminder that radical social change is a possibility, and that I can be a part of it. The opening lines of “Revolutionary Letter #1” gives me chills no matter how many times I read it: “I have just realized that the stakes are myself/ I have no other/ ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life.” If you are the type who doesn’t consider yourself to be a poetry person, give Diane di Prima a read, and then get back to me. —Anna

All I Want Is Everything
Caitlin Constantine
2010, Parcell Press

I was just re-reading this the other day, and it’s one of my favorite zines ever. It’s about taking your power back, about admitting that we have our own agendas and our own desires, and that it is OK to want everything: commitment, happiness, acceptance. The author talks in a refreshingly confessional way about hard times in her life and how she still feels about them and how she moved past them. I don’t want to give it away, but I do think it is well worth the three dollars. —Arabelle

34 Comments

  • elizabethg May 17th, 2012 7:09 PM

    Rules of Attraction is based off the college I go to! …. and is pretty accurate………………

    • Anaheed May 17th, 2012 7:32 PM

      I went to that college!

    • tangela May 18th, 2012 10:22 AM

      Omg is it accurate? Tell me stories, it was nothing like that when I left which wasn’t all that long ago.

      • elizabethg May 18th, 2012 1:15 PM

        I mean, certainly not everyone/everything! But it’s super easy to see how if he was sick of the type of people and parties he writes about it’s easy to satirize… Which I guess is true of any college.

  • mangachic May 17th, 2012 7:19 PM

    Ohmygod Tamora Pierce. Tamora Pierce is incredible. ALL of her protagonists are 3d kickass heroines.
    Personally, her protector of the small books and Keladry are why I became a feminist.

    • Arabelle May 18th, 2012 12:12 PM

      omg i know. i seriously wanted to be Tris for years

      • OlyGirl_LAWorld May 18th, 2012 1:20 PM

        Tris and Daine. Weather magic versus animal magic (and a hot mage/teacher)?????? Ahhh…..it’s really quite impossible to choose favorite heroines with Tamora Pierce…..

        • karastarr32 June 9th, 2012 9:09 AM

          Alianne or Beka, defo :)

  • lilylaughs May 17th, 2012 7:22 PM

    oh my god so glad tamora pierce made the list she is the most underrated fantasy author ever – her book are awesome!

  • Pia May 17th, 2012 7:32 PM

    RAY PETRI IS MY GOD!

  • May 17th, 2012 7:41 PM

    Stlvia Plath’s the bell jar should be on here

  • missblack May 17th, 2012 7:45 PM

    Oh my God Tamora Pierce!!! Laura Weiss!!! Two of my favorite authors ever!!!! Rookie is the best. (Though to be honest I prefer the Protector of the Small books over the Song of the Lioness Series.)

    Little&Trivial

  • KinuKinu May 17th, 2012 8:03 PM

    This is so awesome.I have to read all of these!! I’ve heard about All I want is Everything and seen it around a few distros before.I think I might get it♥ I’ve been procrastinating with my zine…my self inflicted deadline was over 3 weeks ago,and I’ve been putting it off. I’m doing so many things at once(learning Korean,making zines,giving out birthday messages to my favorite idols,school,and I have to fit in a couple of k-dramas in my day too) Ugh….Anyways,I’m gonna go buy Caitlin Constantine’s zine♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

  • caro nation May 17th, 2012 8:26 PM

    Also, LOVELY LINDA!

  • NotReallyChristian May 17th, 2012 9:01 PM

    I stopped by Jezebel this evening to look at their celebrity fashion feature, and was depressed: the writer criticised Tilda Swinton by telling her to ‘put on some fucking mascara’. I was saddened that a self-proclaimed feminist site could say a thing like that, and worried about how few places on the web seemed to be happy, positive destinations for teen girls (and only-just-stopped-being-teen girls like me). Then I came back here, and read this list, and felt so much better about the world. Thanks, Rookie :)

  • plainjane May 17th, 2012 9:04 PM

    i have just read “such a pretty girl” and i LOVED it. the way it was written was refreshingly different, ya know?

  • marimba_girl May 17th, 2012 9:12 PM

    I love Tamora Pierce sooooo much! Everyone should read her books. That’s all…:)

  • teenager May 17th, 2012 9:39 PM

    thank the power gods, I needed some new reading material! searching through Shameless’ website right now, looks maaaarvelous !

    http://interstellarsuburbia.wordpress.com/

  • emilyelizabeth May 17th, 2012 9:44 PM

    The Secret History is one of my favorite books! great recommendation!

  • Toria Crux May 17th, 2012 10:01 PM

    I know people have already said this, but… OH MY GOD TAMORA PIERCE!!!!!! I read the Lioness series in sixth grade! I was so sad when I was finished with it!!! MUST read everything else on the list!!!

  • rachelsea May 18th, 2012 1:51 AM

    Sonja, I am from Victoria too! Maybe things have changed since you have lived here, but it is anything but repressed! I live in the groovier part of town though, so maybe that is why our experiences are so different.

  • mayaautumn May 18th, 2012 2:04 AM

    all sound v.gooooood.
    after I’ve finished all the hunger games series, im deffo gonna purchase some of these!

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

  • Narnie May 18th, 2012 5:06 AM

    YES THE SECRET HISTORY

  • bellaumbrella May 18th, 2012 7:46 AM

    Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt are my favourite authors EVER IN THE WHOLE WORLD!

  • laaauraaa May 18th, 2012 9:13 AM

    Noone ever talks about The Secret History but it is SERIOUSLY the best book ever

  • SparklyVulcan May 18th, 2012 12:11 PM

    Anything by Tamora Pierce is the ultimate ‘girl power’ book. :) She taught me that girls can be just as strong, powerful and stubborn as guys. I read them when I was in third or fourth grade, though. I also like Bloodhound. :)

  • OlyGirl_LAWorld May 18th, 2012 1:16 PM

    AH! I’m SO EXCITED that a Tamora Pierce novel series made it onto this list!! I’m rereading them all right now (because it’s THAT time of year and I’m nostalgic for my adolescence), and they are blowing my mind right now I’m beginning to realize they weren’t just any throwaway, escapist set of works. I started reading her books when I was 11-12, but I never realized how much they had informed my feminism and self-determination until now (at 21!). You won’t find such a strong (both personality-wise and physically), likeable, and REAL set of heroines than in her novels. Warning though: you’ll totally feel a bit of heartbreak every time you complete a series, they become THAT MUCH a part of you.

  • bloodymessjess May 19th, 2012 11:43 AM

    Rookie is so great! Love that you recommend Tamora Pierce, Laura Weiss and Shameless Magazine. I’ve probably read every Tamora Pierce book at least once a year for the past 10 or so years and I only wish I had been reading Shameless as long. I started subscribing to Shameless when I was 18 and still love it in my early 20′s. Leftovers is my favorite Laura Weiss book but all her books are great. Seeing books that I love on the list makes me confident I’ll enjoy all your other picks.

  • elyon61 May 19th, 2012 3:09 PM

    Tamora Pierce is so underrated, I’m glad she made it on this list. I actually read the Song of the Lioness last of all the series, so it was like reading a piece of history.

    I really think the Bloody Jack series should have made it on here, as well. Sometimes it gets a little far-fetched, but the author makes it a point to show that traditionally feminine qualities and traditionally masculine qualities can exist in the same person, and both can be useful. That’s something I think is lost in a lot of other strong heroines.

  • theaterbex May 20th, 2012 4:09 AM

    I adore Tamora Pierce! The Alana stories are great, but her writing style only gets better over the years. My favorites are Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.

  • Pashupati May 20th, 2012 9:25 AM

    Shameless sounds amazing :o
    Great discovery! Thanks :)

  • oharnoldlayne May 21st, 2012 5:37 PM

    I love that Song of the Lioness is on here! It is by far the best Tamora Pierce series (though her others are amazing too!) and none of my friends loved it so I thought I must have bad taste or something. But it is one of the few series’ that I was really sad to finish. I want to be Alanna.

  • Miss Erin May 22nd, 2012 7:23 PM

    I want to read ALL THE BOOKS.

  • neenah May 26th, 2012 7:22 PM

    Cruddy is the best! I actually just finished re-reading it so I was tickled to see it here. Lynda Barry is the greatest! I have been a fan of hers ever since the days of Ernie Pook’s Comeek. I used to clip the panels out of my local alternative newspaper. I still have a few in a shoe box somewhere. Lynda Barry is so witty and dark and just plain awesome! Her writing about the creative process in “What It Is” is incredible!
    Also, “100 Demons” is a great read and less spooky than “Cruddy.”