Frog, Ltd. (2002), $22.95
On the dedication page of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, there's a simple flower drawing, accompanied by handwritten cursive text that reads, "For all the girls when they have grown." It's an understated message on a page that's easy to overlook, but in many ways it serves as the best introduction to Phoebe Gloeckner's latest book.
The semi-autobiographical Diary chronicles a year in the life of 15-year-old Minnie Goetze, a precocious and socially awkward teen who's growing up too fast in 1970s San Francisco. Through Minnie's typewritten diary entries and her accompanying sketches and comic strips, we learn of her experimentation with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Gloeckner, regarded as one of the best American underground female comic artists, has never been afraid to raise a ruckus, yet as titillating and voyeuristic as Diary can be (and intends to be), it's Minnie's search for self-love that makes the book compelling. Diary can also be disturbing, especially in those raw moments when Minnie fails to hide her self-loathing and vulnerability. The book inspires a powerfully ambivalent feeling -- half disgust and half sympathy -- which may be the point. As Gloeckner seems to hint in her dedication, there's likely a piece of the immature, naive, and damaged Minnie in most teenage girls, and Diary allows readers to explore that awkward time without moralistic judgment.