A national bestseller
“Her whole life, writer Melissa Febos has been forced to understand her body primarily through other people’s conceptions of it. If that sounds familiar to you, Girlhood—a mix of investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship around what it truly means to be a young woman—might be right up your alley. (And if you’re a parent struggling to understand what your teenage daughter is going through, it’s safe to say this book might help).”
“In eight haunting essays, Melissa Febos unearths the trauma of her adolescence as she picks apart the burdens that accompany being a young woman. In sharing the darkness that clouded her coming of age, Febos asks pointed questions about the expectations placed on women and how they impact a person’s sense of self.”
“Utter candor has become Febos' trademark in books such as Whip Smart and Abandon Me, and she uses the same honest storytelling in Girlhood, in which she deconstructs the sexism associated with coming of age. As a girl whose body developed early, Febos has a unique perspective on the male gaze and voices the critical need to set her own boundaries, which many girls can relate to.”
"The prose is restrained but lyrical throughout. Raw and unflinching, this dark coming-of-age story impresses at every turn."
“Profound and gloriously provocative, this book—a perfect follow-up to her equally visceral previous memoir, Abandon Me—transforms the wounds and scars of lived female experience into an occasion for self-understanding that is both honest and lyrical. Consistently illuminating, unabashedly ferocious writing.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Intellectual and erotic, engaging and empowering, Girlhood lays bare the process of unlearning the most deeply ingrained lesson of female adolescence—that we ourselves are not masters of our own domain—and offers us exquisite, ferocious language for embracing self-pleasure and self-love.”
—Oprah Magazine, “32 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape in 2021”
“Melissa Febos is a precise, visceral chronicler of what it means to be a woman in the world…[Girlhood] feels like a rescue mission of sorts for so many women, who have felt lost in a world that doesn't prioritize them. It is fierce and lyrical, furious and tender; a vital read for anyone figuring out who they really are, and have always been.”
“Melissa Febos’ latest book is a memoir, but it also serves as a history lesson of sorts. In Girlhood she picks at the ways women are taught to be “female” — and what it means to remove oneself from such expectations. Febos’ lyrical, meditative writing makes it all the easier to ponder her critical questions and explorations.”
—San Francisco Chronicle, Ten Books to Pick Up for a Better 2021
“In Girlhood Febos not only offers herself a new playbook, scrutinizing the assumptions she has placed upon herself, she also examines how our culture prizes the narratives of boys over girls, often erasing the girl altogether in favor of a more understandable story. By looking at the social and cultural context in which we become women, this multileveled narrative affirms that our shared attitudes and beliefs about girls and the women we expect them to become are more important than whatever benefits we gain by denying and distorting them. Girlhood offers the plausibility that on the other side of personal and collective awareness lies the choice to play a different game.”
—Chicago Review of Books
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
A gripping set of stories about the forces that shape girls and the adults they become. A wise and brilliant guide to transforming the self and our society.
In her powerful new book, critically acclaimed author Melissa Febos examines the narratives women are told about what it means to be female and what it takes to free oneself from them.
When her body began to change at eleven years old, Febos understood immediately that her meaning to other people had changed with it. By her teens, she defined herself based on these perceptions and by the romantic relationships she threw herself into headlong. Over time, Febos increasingly questioned the stories she’d been told about herself and the habits and defenses she’d developed over years of trying to meet others’ expectations. The values she and so many other women had learned in girlhood did not prioritize their personal safety, happiness, or freedom, and she set out to reframe those values and beliefs.
Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny.
Written with Febos’ characteristic precision, lyricism, and insight, Girlhood is a philosophical treatise, an anthem for women, and a searing study of the transitions into and away from girlhood, toward a chosen self.
Praise for GIRLHOOD
“The harrowing nature of transformation is Girlhood’s core subject, and in seven chapters Febos explores the interconnected aspects of patriarchy and the marks that they’ve left on her…The book’s centerpiece is a magisterial, seventy-six-page essay on what Febos terms ‘empty consent’—not merely agreeing to unwanted sex, but the ways in which women are programmed to collaborate in their own diminishment…Febos has some idea of how to break this cycle. She is also, perhaps, correcting the story of the girl-dreamer, whose elegy, it turns out, may have been premature—she lives to mother the woman.”
—Katy Waldman for The New Yorker
“Febos is an intoxicating writer, but I found myself most grateful for the vivid clarity of her thinking…disquisitive and catalytic—it doesn’t demand change so much as expose certain injustices so starkly that you might feel you cannot abide them another minute…I never once needed trigonometry and I couldn’t find Catullus in a crossword these days, but Febos’s education is a kind I surely could have used.”
“Anyone who has ever been a girl or a woman will recognize the patterns Febos uncovers: the unwanted touch, the expectations of our bodies, the way we become complicit in the traps laid out for us along the way by the patriarchal structures that govern so many of our social, professional, and interpersonal spheres…By following Febos's distinct paths between the past and present, we might realize there's room to forge our own, and that we've just been handed a flashlight that helps illuminate the way.”
—Ilana Masad for NPR
“A feminist testament to survival. Febos’s own voice is so irreverent and original. The aim of this book, though, is not simply to tell about her own life, but to listen to the pulses of many others’. In her author’s note, Febos writes that she has ‘found company in the stories of other women, and the revelation of all our ordinariness has itself been curative.’ This solidarity puts ‘Girlhood’ in a feminist canon that includes Febos’s idol, Adrienne Rich, and Maggie Nelson’s theory-minded masterpieces: smart, radical company, and not ordinary at all.”
—Betsy Bonner for The New York Times Book Review
"I wish I could have read Girlhood when I was young . . . Over the course of eight essays with poignant illustrations by Forsyth Harmon, Febos interrogates the strength, savvy and vulnerabilities of girlhood . . . whether examining adolescent bullying and the etymological roots of the word ‘slut’ or exploring the evolution of consent against the backdrop of cuddle parties, Febos illuminates how women are conditioned to be complicit in our own exploitation. Like much of her scholarship, it begins with somatic knowledge of the self."
—Kristen Millares Young for The Washington Post
“Girlhood is a striking assortment of essays that examine the expectations of womanhood, the forces that perpetuate them, and what it takes to reject these narratives and define one’s own life. A genre-bending work that combines journalism, memoir, and scholarship, Girlhood is a sincere and searing guide to transforming the self and society.”
“Combining intimate memoir with eye-opening cultural investigation in seven essays, Melissa Febos lucidly articulates the infuriating and redemptive ways women's lives are shaped. These seven illuminating essays unpack the experiences of living as a female under the destructive influence of patriarchal norms and warped ideals of femininity.”
—Shelf Awareness, starred review
“In this book of liberating inquiry and divine depth, Febos again and again connects the constellations of herself and the world she and all women must learn to live in.”
―Booklist, starred review
“Febos’s newest collection of essays addresses misogyny from the inside out. From the dangers of stalkers, to enlightening revelations at cuddle parties, this work is powerful, raw, and provocative… the author’s critique of becoming is as tender as it is relentless. A thought-provoking collection that will appeal to fans of fierce feminist prose.”
“Fusing memoir, cultural commentary, and research, critically-acclaimed writer Febos explores the beauty and discomfort of girlhood (and womanhood) in her newest essay collection. With her signature lyricism and haunting honesty, the essays explore the ways girls inherit, create, interrogate, and rewrite the narratives of their lives.”
“With a combination of personal writing and reporting, Girlhood examines the messages Febos and other women received growing up—messages meant to limit their autonomy and authentic expression—and reimagines what it means to be female in a world hostile to your survival.”
“To counter society's patriarchal standards and stereotypes enmesh girls in a web of unreachable expectations of mind, body and soul, Melissa Febos offers ideas to disrupt the normative narratives surrounding girlhood and encourages us to recreate ourselves according to ourselves.”
“What a delight it is to read the new book of a writer you adore and be knocked out all over again. With Girlhood, one of the queer community's favorite writers, Melissa Febos has written her career-best.”
“Febos is a balletic memoirist whose capacious gaze can take in so many seemingly disparate things and unfurl them in a graceful, cohesive way…she dances deftly between her own autobiography and exposing the pervasive social history that marked—sometimes literally—her personal experiences and those of many, many women.”
—Michelle Hart for Oprah Daily
“Vibrant, haunting, and absolutely unforgettable…a modern masterpiece of brutally honest self-reflection….These essays will prompt readers to look critically at their own relationships to consent, and to grow attached to Febos as she examines adolescence through the lens of an adult who has recouped and recovered.”
“Febos is widely considered one of the most respected and beloved contemporary essayists and memoirists, and a pillar of thought and encouragement for other writers. The essays in her latest collection read like sculpture: sentences chiseled and combined into profound, moving works. Whether she’s writing about a childhood soccer game or a cuddle party or a hike in France or sex or Greek myth or addiction, her essays dance between philosophical, humorous, and sensual.”
“In an effort to reimagine those transitional years between girlhood and womanhood, Febos combs through her own past in a series of essays that blends investigative reporting and memoir. … In each of Girlhood’s essays — which are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by artist/author Forsyth Harmon — Febos works to interrogate her own behaviors as she navigates relationships, love, sex, and addiction and, bolstered by research and interviews, comes out the other side with a clearer understanding of what it might take to make girlhood a less-destructive experience.”
“In her searching essay collection, Febos combines personal, cultural, investigative, and scholarly passages to ferociously dissect the lessons that shaped her, and the result is a book that fills the educational void she’d noticed. The elegance of Febos’s transitions, even while writing about such painful things, showcases her trademark lyrical range. As a woman, it’s impossible not to relate to Febos’s essays, and the way she concludes many of them models how we might reframe our experiences as well.”
—The Boston Globe
“In this book, Febos proves herself to be one of the great documenters of the terrible and exquisite depths of girlhood. Here, that terrible and beautiful aeon is dissected, sung over, explored like ancient ruins. These essays are moss and iron—hard and beautiful—and struck through with Febos’ signature brilliance and power and grace. An essential, heartbreaking project."
—Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties and In the Dreamhouse
“Melissa Febos is part poet, part theorist, and all writer. In this lyrical, searching, profound, and personal collection, Febos examines childhood, femaleness, and love in its many forms with a sensuous ferocity that is all her own.”
—Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply
“Melissa Febos just revived me in the most spectacular way. Girlhood blazes through the stories we've been told with a dazzling fury and a brilliant beauty. Whatever we are or were, this is a map to a new becoming. Between the intellect and the body a third term emerges, dissolving binaries and reinventing the space of erotic power and creativity. A fuck-all guide to resilience and reclamation, a breathtaking reimagination of who we might be in spite of what we've been told. Girlhood will bring you back to life.”
—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Chronology of Water and The Book of Joan
“Girlhood is an exquisite collection. In lapidary, lucid prose, Melissa Febos dissects the traumas, terrors, and pleasures of the fraught passage from girl to woman. Febos’s insight is devastating, the examinations of her world – from the female body, queerness, consent, slut-shaming, and intimacy – are rigorous and compassionate. This is a book for mothers, daughters, and our deepest selves, a true light in the dark.”
—Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter and Stray
"Melissa Febos's GIRLHOOD is a gorgeously written, perfectly calibrated investigation into the traps, paths, and challenges of being female in this world. It's a stunner of a book."
—Jami Attenberg, author of All This Could Be Yours
“American patriarchy teaches so many of us to hate our own bodies and stifle our own desires—to make ourselves smaller in every way. GIRLHOOD is a smart, fierce, gloriously sensual critique of these lessons by a writer who has fought hard to unlearn them. Thank you, Melissa Febos, for charting this magnificent route of queer feminist resistance!”
—Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
“I could not stop reading Melissa Febos’s lucid and timely GIRLHOOD, which lays bare the invisible scars of coming-of-age alongside a history of a body under-estimated. In precise and lyrical prose, she connects her personal story to those of other women who have faced the incremental violences of patriarchy. Febos’ wit and sincerity push aside tropes of purity to make room for stories of real power and desire. The great surprise of the book is how masterfully she reinvents the path to womanhood, a philosopher’s eye turned protectively towards the tenderest parts of the writer’s former self.”
—Wendy S. Walters, author of Multiply/Divide
“Reading Girlhood felt like having a spell whispered into my ear. You carve yourself, Melissa Febos writes, and the phrase becomes command, elegy, incantation. In these pages she conjures not only the past, but an allegory of experience at once universal and exquisitely personal. Intimate, urgent, and stunningly beautiful, this is a book that will be passed from hand to hand, from heart to heart.”
—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author The Fact of A Body
“At once intimate and didactic, lyric and wise, Girlhood is a must-read hybrid text for women looking to define themselves from the inside. This book is an exorcism of social messaging and external gazes, and Febos is a warm and erudite exorcist.”
—Melissa Broder, author of So Sad Today and The Pisces