How to Grow Up by Michelle Tea

How to Grow Up

Michelle Tea

Darkly comic and affecting, HOW TO GROW UP is a punk rock memoir-in-essays about growing up without selling out, from a writer whose previous works have been called "raucous...[and] unapologetically raw." (New York Times)

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“A gutsy, wise memoir-in-essays from a writer praised as ‘impossible to put down’”—People

From the author of the acclaimed genre-bending Black Wave comes this moving personal essay collection about the trials and triumphs of shedding your vices in order to find yourself.

As an aspiring young writer in San Francisco, Michelle Tea lived in a scuzzy communal house: she drank; she smoked; she snorted anything she got her hands on; she toiled for the minimum wage; she dated men and women, and sometimes both at once. But between hangovers and dead-end jobs, she scrawled in notebooks and organized dive bar poetry readings, working to make her literary dreams a reality.
 
In How to Grow Up, Tea shares her awkward stumble towards the life of a Bona Fide Grown-Up: healthy, responsible, self-aware, and stable. She writes about passion, about her fraught relationship with money, about adoring Barney’s while shopping at thrift stores, about breakups and the fertile ground between relationships, about roommates and rent, and about being superstitious (“why not, it imbues this harsh world of ours with a bit of magic”).  At once heartwarming and darkly comic, How to Grow Up proves that the road less traveled may be a difficult one, but if you embrace life’s uncertainty and dust yourself off after every screw up, slowly but surely, you just might make it to adulthood.
 
“Wild, wickedly funny, and refreshingly relevant.” —Elle 

“This compulsively readable collection is so damn good, you’ll tear through the whole thing (and possibly take notes along the way).” —Bustle


Advance Galley Reviews

I didn't expect to like this book all that much, or rather, I didn't expect to like the persona the author was presenting in this memoir. I am happy to report that I was a snob. She's delightfully fun. It's a bit disjointed, but I enjoyed almost all of it. I'll be keeping an eye out for her other work.

I loved this so much. I've been reading Michelle Tea on xoJane for a few years now, and it was great to get to read something more long-form. Even though we don't have a lot in common on the surface, I took away a lot of life lessons from what she's been through. I particularly enjoyed the sections on zen meditation, apartment-hunting in San Francisco, and trying to get pregnant and meeting Dashiell. Tea's book is truly inspirational and tells the story of a new kind of American woman.

How to Grow Up is a memoir by Michelle Tea. I haven't finished the book yet, so my review is only based on the first fifty pages. Tea's voice is fresh, spunky, and light. She seems to make light of a lot of events, not really self-reflecting or digging as deep as often a memoir should. However, there are still moments the reader just knows seep truth. This memoir is an enjoyable read, and probably won't leave the reader heavy hearted for too long.

I am in no need of another memoir or another personal addiction history narrative. Based on the reviews I had read, I was afraid that's what I'd get with How to Grow Up. But Michelle Tea somehow made her collection of personal essays into something much more. Her voice is original and she is always unabashedly herself, even when it's less than flattering. Her stories are both exceptionally relatable - the sections on fashion, money, and her early life especially resonated with me - and wholly unique, mostly because they're not the ones usually told. I was engaged throughout, felt a connection to Tea through her prose, and found myself reflecting on my own experiences. I appreciated realizing how her insights might apply to me, however different we may be. Isn't that what we all look for in a good book?

Dear Reader, I have long been a fan of Michelle Tea, which is why I picked this book up even though I don't tend to like memoirs. So, Tea's voice in this book balanced out a lot of my disinterest in learning "life lessons" from people. I found it to be, overall, a good read, although certainly nothing life-changing. Tea had a few great pieces of wisdom to impart, particularly (for me) in her chapter on "How to Break Up," advice I really could have used around the time I lived in Boston with a particularly loveless & selfish person. (Although knowing my neediness at that point, I probably would never have heeded it. - Which Michelle Tea also totally understands; she's like a wise & "been there" aunt.) I also really enjoyed "Beware of Sex and Other Rules for Love" (Tea makes herself quite a few ground rules following her "crazy sexual period" where she decides what she really wants in a partner she plans to share her life with). And I had to laugh at the first sentence of the "WWYMD?" chapter: "What would Young Michelle think of today's Michelle? -- Who cares? That Michelle was a jerk.") Tea doesn't take herself too seriously, and has learned to question the beliefs and ideals she once had, which I do appreciate. I also did enjoy how well the author was able to make a memoir - essentially, her collection of essays - flow into a pretty cohesive and overarching life story. However, I have to admit I was a little bored by other parts of the book, those that just didn't engage me. While I could relate to her adoption of the punk rock fashion and "lifestyle" in her teenage years, I wasn't all that interested in the story of when she achieved her lifelong goal of attending Paris Fashion Week, or purchasing a $900 leather jacket. I was interested in her rationalization for experiencing those things, and I understand that growing up with nothing and suddenly having money can make you see the world differently, but I had to say I cringed when she risked her job to do something that felt so...frivolous. Maybe she knows something I don't know, though. Besides, it is her life, her money, and her passion. So what if it isn't mine? That's okay. (And I actually think that is one of the things Tea tries to express in her book.) Tea's frank discussions about how she feels about not having gone to college, her recovery from drugs and alcohol, and her newly-established family life were all quite engaging, and I think the true meat of this book. It was what kept me reading, even through her chapters on affirmations (a 12-step concept), her take on Buddhism (kind of yawn), and her validations for getting Botox (blerg). And despite the wildly varying quality and quantity, each chapter did have something valuable to impart on the reader. Tea was able to learn from her life - both her mistakes and her triumphs - and has come out the stronger on the other side. Which is why I think she felt the need to write this, and why I think many will get something out of this. My three favorite quotes from this book? "...I was haunted by the question, What do you want to be when you grow up? I never wanted to be a nurse, or a truck driver. There was only one job in the whole world that I had ever heard of that sounded good to me: I wanted to be a librarian." ? Not going to college does not mean you've opted out of educating yourself." [Nor does finishing school, at whatever level; you should always be choosing to learn & improve!] ? "I try to make choices that will align with my highest beliefs. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't and in between I try not to have a panic attack over it." I'd suggest picking this book up if you need some inspiration, especially if you worry your life has maybe gone in the wrong direction. Michelle Tea's life has gone pretty much every direction possible, and yet by anyone's standards she is pretty darned successful. It reminds us all to reflect on our own lives more impartially, for some true perspective. Yours, Arianna shelfnotes.com

Tea is a witty writer and many of the personal stories that she tells are poignant as well as quite funny. Different aspects will be relateable to different readers -- the teenage 80s rocker stuff to anyone who came of age during that time, the 12-steppy stuff to anyone who has struggled with addiction and recovery, the bad relationship stuff to, well, probably most women. However, while I enjoyed different parts of Tea's memoir, I'm not sure how I feel about the whole. Perhaps if the chapters had been presented in a different order (e.g. more chronologically, or by somewhat different themes?) I'd have had a better reaction, but as it stands I felt largely as if I were reading someone's self-helping diary project on how to justify various indulgent hipster behavior without feeling guilty, or how to feel great about one's mid-life achievements and "haves" after a youth of bad personal decisions and resultant "have-nots". The latter, especially, is all well and good for anyone to write for themselves but does not necessarily make a good read for others.

I'm not sold on "How to Grow Up." To its credit, it is an easy read. Tea is witty. Her descriptions are deadpan, irreverent, and at times, made me laugh out loud. Structurally, it is somewhat schizophrenic. I'm not sure if this is a memoir made of essays or a memoir made of essays with a few self-help how-to lists; what kind of book am I dealing with here? Maybe Tea is going for a style inspired by Quentin Crisp, and if that's the case, I'll give her a pass. However, I have a real problem with the substance of the memoir. Perhaps it was unavoidable, given that Tea and I are very close in age, had very similar experiences throughout our twenties (although I was in the NYC, not SF, and my vices never rose to the level of addiction), and we seem to be on the same page with respect to our socio-political beliefs. I know her "story" because it's a lot like mine. Like Tea, I wanted to write about my life, because I thought my ideas were so wacky, so off the beaten path, and it was of the utmost importance that the world know how oh-so persecuted I was for liking different music, wearing Doc Martens, and having drag queens as friends. But that was a couple of decades ago, and I've gained a bit of perspective since then. Tea would like you to think she's done the same, dropping little qualifiers implying she is no longer the out of control, angry wild child fueled by booze and narcotics; at least one paragraph of each essay seems to end with a sentence telling you she's all grown up now, 12-stepped and monogamous. Yet she has an awfully tight, almost clenched grasp on these memories of her bad old days, which is all the more frustrating, even disingenuous, when they are encased in a book titled "How to Grow Up." The book has a couple of bright spots. The vignette about the author's wedding was exceptional. It was straightforward, genuine, and Tea's talented narrative transported me to the Swedish-American club in which she married and her guests ate BBQ and pie. Unfortunately, stories like that were overshadowed by tiring tales about how she was unimpressed by college life and proudly got her degree from the School of Hard Knocks, how she was lousy at keeping jobs in high school because she had dyed hair, she camped out for New Order tickets, how the needle injecting her with Botox hurt, but not too badly, because she was used to needles, what, with all her tattoos, and how she found her higher calling after she discovered zines and began staging poetry events, because, in case you hadn't been reading for the last two hundred pages--she is creative and she is an artist! One reviewer of this book mentioned that he thought Tea's subject matter was low-hanging fruit, and I think that is apt. Reading How to Grow Up was like hearing a joke to which I already knew the punchline...over and over again.

I received this ARC through Penguin's First to Read program, which I love and tell all of my friends about. Overall, Michelle Tea's memoir was an insightful read - very well-written - and had a distinct feeling of schadenfreude for the reader. My favorite parts were when she talks about her decision not to go back to school to get a degree and how difficult it was to make that decision; her attitude toward money and how it ran her behaviors until she consciously changed her thinking; her wedding and how it influenced her community; and her evolution from boxed, processed foods to kale shakes. I felt the chapter on her wedding was the most powerful, and I would have shifted that one to the end of the book. The chapter that actually finishes the book - about exercise - is not nearly as powerful. I would recommend this book to friends.

I have weird feelings about this book. I read an advance copy as part of Penguin's First-to-Read program, and I was really excited to get to read a Michelle Tea book before it was even released. And now I'm glad that I got to read an advance copy, because that means I didn't have to pay for it... I read it in a day-and-a-half. And that's a testament to the quality of the writing, for sure - it pulled me along so that I only put it down when I absolutely HAD to. And when I first finished it, I thought: "Hell yes, this was exactly what I needed right now." And I gave it five stars, and put it on my favorites shelf. And then I thought about it some more, and started feeling more conflicted, less stoked. I downgraded it to four stars, and took it off my favorites shelf. A few more days went by, I thought about it more, and I downgraded it to three stars. It's so hard to judge someone's memoir, right? It's them talking about their life experiences and the lessons THEY'VE learned about themselves, so how can you say "I don't agree with this?" without sounding like a jerk? Sure, you can critique their writing style, but to critique their life experiences and the lessons they've learned... I'm really very happy that Michelle Tea got sober, and that she's having success as a writer. And I'm happy that she's in a good relationship. And I really liked/related to the parts about how it's okay to make money as a writer (or any other kind of artist), that it's okay to not want to live in a house with maggots in the fridge and roommates who are wasted all the time, that it's even okay to want to own some nice things, that it's even okay to get married and have babies - how none of those things mean you're old and boring, or a sell-out, or a traitor to the 'cause.' That's why I gave it five stars at first. I needed to read that. But then I started to think about the rest... I guess my main problem with this book is that it came off as sort-of bragging and preachy, even when she was trying NOT to do either one of those things. Like: "If you, too, get sober and dump your shitty partner, you will have the perfect life that I have!" Not to mention some of the things she so gleefully accepts and/or rejects throughout the book. Like, I was weirded out that she's really into Botox now, and that she really wanted a diamond engagement ring and barely even cared if it was a blood diamond! And I got pissed off when she said that if you and your partner open up your relationship, that means it really needs to end. Excuse me, Michelle, but some of us actually function better in open relationships. In conclusion, I think the book is an engaging read and there are certain parts that resonated with me, but I think it would have been better if it had been a straight-up memoir without the self-helpy bits; and if she wanted the self-helpy bits in there anyway, she should have taken into account that some people's paths to happiness, success, and growing up might look a hell of a lot different than hers.

I had never heard of Michelle Tea before I got my hands on "How to Grow Up", but I am now a huge fan. This memoir covers various topics throughout Michelle's life, mostly focusing on comparing her pre-sobriety years versus today. She discusses the wisdom she's accumulated throughout her messy (but often awesome) experiences with a unique freshness and clarity often missing from many memoirs. She has lived an unusual yet extraordinary life so far and she definitely knows how to write about it in a way that keeps you hanging on for more.

How to Grow Up by Michelle Tea is a look into the adult life of a person with many sides: creative, addictive, scared, ambitious, etc. When I started the book, I kept saying to myself, "Hey, I'm a struggling writer too. What makes this person's story so special? I mean, switch out the nasty communal house for a guest room with a couple of retirees, the drug/alcohol addiction with an overabundance of love for food, a sketchy codependent love life with none at all and you have me." Okay... so maybe Tea's story is wildly different than mine. The book covers a lot of topics from drug and alcohol addiction to sexual orientation, finding yourself and realizing that they way you are living cannot be sustained long term. While I did enjoy some of the chapters that were a bit less memoir and a bit more how-to (such as the chapter about money and trying to will it into your life), the book seemed a bit scattered to me. Although it did always come back to the theme of making the choices that will better your life, even if they seem a lot harder than the choices that lead to near-destruction. It definitely had its moments, and I'm glad I had the chance to read it.

Disappointing. Made me feel like a loser for making responsible decisions...

 


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