Grrls on the Side by Carrie Pack is a recent publication by Interlude Press that I was given through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
The year is 1994 and alternative is in. But not for alternative girl Tabitha Denton; she hates her life. She is uninterested in boys, lonely, and sidelined by former friends at her suburban high school. When she picks up a zine at a punk concert, she finds an escape—an advertisement for a Riot Grrrl meet-up.
At the meeting, Tabitha finds girls who are more like her and a place to belong. But just as Tabitha is settling in with her new friends and beginning to think she understands herself, eighteen-year-old Jackie Hardwick walks into a meeting and changes her world forever. The out-and-proud Jackie is unlike anyone Tabitha has ever known. As her feelings for Jackie grow, Tabitha begins to learn more about herself and the racial injustices of the punk scene, but to be with Jackie, she must also come to grips with her own privilege and stand up for what’s right.
I hadn’t heard very much about Grrls on the Side before requesting it through Netgalley, so I was very interested to see what it was about. First of all, I was really impressed that the book began with trigger warnings from the author. It was just a short statement about how the themes of sexual abuse/sexual abuse of minors would be discussed in the novel. I think this sort of thing should definitely be included in most if not all publications – thank you for this!
Tabitha is an out and proud fat bisexual, which I really loved. The word bisexual is used on the page by her and her first girlfriend, Kate. Throughout the book there are also pages from zines made by various Riot Grrls, including Tabitha’s individual one, Chubby Bunny. In this way, I really enjoyed the intersectionality.
However, I think that there are other ways in which the intersectionality failed in this novel. One of the main Riot Grrls, Marty, often said biphobic and racist things, e.g. people are claiming to be bisexual because it is trendy, or that race isn’t significant to feminism. In some ways, it is important to have this narrative, because white feminism needs to be called out. However, I think that there could have been a lot more done to carry this out. In the end it kind-of feels like the other Riot Grrls just ignore Marty’s comments, and they continue to excuse her behaviour, often saying that the black Riot Grrls need to be less harsh on her. And while Tabitha does learn, I just feel like this ‘white feminists being redeemed’ is not the narrative that I really wanted from this novel. There wasn’t enough nuance – and was incredibly cis-centric.
I think Carrie Pack had really good intentions with Grrls on the Side, but it just wasn’t carried out as well as it could have been.