I just finished Janice Erlbaum’s Girlbomb. It’s only been two days since my first book, but I am on vacation and I’m trying to get in a lot of reading while I can! Yesterday, I found out that I got the job as editor for a small magazine insert for the newspaper company at which I interned last summer. I am incredibly excited and grateful to have such opportunities this summer although it’ll be quite busy.
Anyway, Girlbomb was… Haunting. Beautiful. Raw. Mysterious. The cover describes itself as “a halfway homeless memoir,” and I was intrigued by the book’s description of a narrator trying to survive her teen years during the ’80s, set on a backdrop of sex, drugs and violence. Janice, the protagonist, struggles to find a home for herself after leaving her house because of her mom’s violent and seedy boyfriend, Dave. She finds housing in a nearby homeless shelter and then enters a group home, which Janice eventually leaves to live with her mother again for a few months before moving in with a new boyfriend, Sebastian.
The narrator’s voice is exceptionally raw and frank, which is why I was drawn into the story almost immediately. Girlbomb isn’t a story about an abused young woman, fighting for her life against all odds. It’s about a girl who, deep down, doesn’t want to settle for less than she deserves. Although Janice was never sexually or physically abused by her mom or stepfather, she knew that their violent, unstable household wasn’t normal. During her stays at the shelter and group home, Janice encounters many other girls, her own age and younger, who have lived a life much harder than what she has endured. What I loved about this nonfiction piece was that even though Janice knew she didn’t have it as bad as her roommates, she never gave up and groveled to move home. Her voice is so gritty and revealing that the reader feels compelled to root for this narrator as she tries to unearth herself from underneath a facade of lies, cleavage and drugs.
A telling sign of accomplished and moving writing is the spell a book casts over you as you’re reading and especially after you’ve put it down. After folding the corner to take a break, I often found myself still engrossed in the book, thinking about it idly as I watched television or listened to the waves on the beach. My mood became somber and still, as if I was the one actually experiencing the events the narrator was going through. Erlbaum writes with such audacity. Her original and beautiful sentences put things in a fresh perspective despite the hard subject matter. I thought she was equally adept at creating a vibrant setting through the juxtaposition of the stereotypically perceived idea of New York City with the deceptive underground world Janice inhabited. In addition, the narrator’s relationships with others, especially the one with herself, were very well executed and characterized.
Intriguing and dark, Erlbaum expertly executes the account of her adolescence through a perceptive and bright narrator who, despite her best attempts at maintaining a hard exterior, lets her fragility and naivete guide her through life as she figures out who she is, what she deserves, and who she needs.