reviewed by Kate Deller-Evans
Girls' Talk: Young women speak their hearts and minds
Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (ed)
Sydney: Finch, 1998.
I've got a loaded imagination
Inspired by girls' talk
It's a more or less situation
Inspired by girls' talk
But I can't say the words you want to hear
I suppose you're going to have to play it by ear
And now girls talk
And how girls talk
I just want to hear girls' talkElvis Costello, Girls' Talk
There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder; real issues need real discussion, and in Girls' Talk Pallotta-Chiarolli is inspired by just that. As editor she has set out on a mission to establish "what girls want to know and what girls want to say". Ten chapters cover: rules, bodies and health; love and sex; families; school and friendships; sport; feminism; religion and spirituality; prejudice and discrimination; and finally, role models and activisms. Each has sections all with snippets, quotes, creative and biographical pieces. There are interviews, poems and prompts for discussion. Contributions have been drawn from upper primary to post-school age young women as well as various authors. In places the editor turns writer and interjects with variously titled "I can't help it… I gotta talk" sections.
Here Pallotta-Chiarolli's academic and literary interests surface. She is able to draw on a past involvement with writing about prejudice (Someone You Know) and other issues crucial to adolescence (she contributed to Boys in Schools). This is a call to arms book where her conceptual framework is active encouragement for young women to rise and be counted. A small stylistic quibble I have concerns merging of fact (biography) and fiction. One long diary entry in the "body" section is not clearly labelled as the creation of an adult author (unless the appendix of contributors is consulted; "an out-of-the-closet-witch… enjoying an illustrious career as a telephone psychic") rather than an adolescent pouring out her guts. Perhaps its contrived nature is the give-away. At least if a teenager picks up a Glyn Parry Spooking the Cows s/he knows it is a fictive diary of a young woman's trials at school and in love. So it should be the responsibility of the editor that the boundaries of fictional integrity are not strained.
Health and Family sections of bookshops are rife with how-to manuals (raise boys, deal with problem children, get happy) yet there is space for this text, particularly as it bridges the generational divide and provides a platform for discussion between not only peers but older-younger adolescents and mothers-daughters (parents-children).
Girls' Talk appears to achieve its stated aims; a test run on my daughter and her high school friend yielded surprising results - two girls rushing from the lunch table to go "discuss things", then cloistered in bunk beds deep in "important stuff", then wandering the garden, refusing to acknowledge reminders of hometime. Eventually I resorted to wrestling the book from them but not before each had extracted a promise from her mother to buy a copy. I was handed a piece of paper:
It's a great book. I really enjoyed it. My best line in the book was: 'The past invades the present and casts a shadow over the future'. (Rosalind, 10.)
I was told:
What I like is that there are so many opinions from different people. (Claire, 13.)
And was asked the next morning:
Can't I take it to school today, Mum? (Rosalind, 10.)
(No, I have to write a review.)
Secondary school health teachers may find the Talk tracks for your girls' talk sections of each chapter useful teaching aids. Good springboards for parent-child discussion, too, questions are clearly posed without sounding patronising. There are "what's it like?", "who?", "how?", "when?" and "do you think?" questions ideal for beginning and extending discussion on topics wide ranging as menstruation to NESBians ("wog-girls"). There are ways here for structuring not only discussions, but writing tasks, too. "What do you love about your cultural background?" "If you have started periods… Where were you when it happened for the first time? If you haven't started periods… Are you able to talk to people about it? Who and about what?"
A pleasurable book to handle; its matte cover photograph of a group of school girls laughing, its hot pink title's imputation of graffiti, white pages crammed with bits and pieces make this thick book edible; a good feed for your money's worth. Text is bite-sized. These are the chunks our fast-food age children like to handle. They are easy to get, quick to digest. The dozen type-faces and nearly as many font sizes wore me out, but I know the cut-up hip look will find broad appeal.
It is richly illustrated (in black and white). I found my young research assistants poring over photos of girls: school shots, sports teams, family snaps. Certainly the cartoons are value-added. Renowned Canberra artist Judy Horacek's contributions are a delight but other less polished efforts add to the general zing of production.
Some of the most useful things we can hear are other people's stories. To be able to compare and contrast our own life experiences must be a primary attraction if not function of narrative. Pallotta-Chiarolli has used a cut-and-paste collection of real-life and creative stories this way, editing a text that will surely find its place on the shelves of mainstream bookshops, one which deserves to be widely bought and pored over, and talked loudly about by young and old alike.
Kate Deller-Evans teaches academic writing at Flinders University and professional and creative writing at the University of Canberra and Belconnen Community Centre.
Vol 3 No 1 April 1999
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady