Sometimes you just know you’re going to get a funny look from the librarian. Try being a 38-year-old dad, no kid in sight, checking out the just-released Girls Against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change.
Look, I explained to my wife, who was also giving me the Raised Eyebrows of Huh?, you know I grew up in a three-brothers-no-sisters house. Having a daughter has come with more than its share of puzzling moments, and nothing’s caught me by surprise more than the drama that sometimes goes on between her and her friends. So she’s 12 now, in middle school, and I’m not thinking it’s going to get easier, and naturally, being a GeekDad, studying up is what I do.
And since this book comes from Lucasfilm writer and editor and all-around nifty person Bonnie Burton – one of our 100 Geeks You Should Be Following on Twitter, of course – well, there you go.
Shortly after finishing the book myself (it’s a quick read) and passing it on to my daughter, I talked to the author about it.
“It’s very tempting to write about how you deal with it when some girl is picking on you, but I also wanted to look at it from the mean girl’s perspective,” she said. “Why are these girls mean? Would you be tempted to start rumors? I wanted to get into the mind of girls that tend to choose that route.”
While she keeps the writing straightforward, Burton manages to hit on some complex ideas about hormones, brain development, biological competition and behavioral legacies.
I should also note that from a content standpoint, while I had no problem putting this book in my sixth-grader’s hands, I did read it first, and Burton doesn’t shy away from touching on topics like spreading rumors about sex.
Growing up as a “pretty geeky girl” herself – she was one of those kids who typed up the BASIC programs from children’s magazines in the 1980s – Burton was as confused as anyone else by the ever-fluctuating moods and actions of her friends. “I desperately wanted a book that would tell me what the heck to do when this happened,” she said. “(Older books) had an ‘us vs. them’ mentality and were written for teachers and parents. Or it was really patronizing, like a pat on the head, ‘go make friends, and if you can’t make friends, tomorrow is another day.'”
She doesn’t really share her own stories directly, though, turning for insight to the likes of Go-Gos guitarist Jane Wiedlin, Mystery Science Theater 3000 writer and actress Mary Jo Pehl, tattoo artist Hannah Aitchison and Tegan Rain Quin of the band Tegan and Sara. She also quotes Marge Simpson and Heathers.
My daughter is about two-thirds of the way through Girls Against Girls and says she really likes it, both for Burton’s practical advice and the tone she strikes. (I liked this, too: She comes off as experienced without lecturing, and casual without strained faux hipness.)
“Self-confidence goes a long way, and I think girls need to realize that at a young age,” Burton said. “You have to discover on your own that you’re cool in your own right, and you don’t have to prove it to everyone.”