Young Essays

Abby Richmond of Newton has donated more than $8,000 to the nonprofit organizations Reading is Fundamental, The Nature Conservancy, Music & Youth Initiative, and She’s the First through sales of her four self-published books of fiction.

For her new book, a collection of essays titled “Young & Feminist,” the senior recruited 19 female, male, and genderqueer classmates at Newton North High School to share their experiences and perspectives. To date, proceeds from the sale of $10 paperback copies have raised $1,700 for Planned Parenthood.

Richmond, an officer of Newton North’s Feminism Club, said she wasn’t planning to write another book until the school rally she helped organized to commemorate International Women’s Day last March. She is also founder of Teens4Hillary.com, founder and president of Newton North’s online opinion magazine Tiger’s Eye, and a communications intern for Jewish Women’s Archive.

“I watched, awestruck, as students of all backgrounds, ages, and genders shared personal stories of street harassment, body shaming, sexist language in classrooms, and the double sting of misogyny and racism,” Richmond writes in the introduction. “Our voices are strong and fresh and capable of making change.”

The 130-page anthology addresses sexism, genderqueer pronouns, mothers in the workforce, rape culture, intersectionality, Islamophobia, and the damaging stereotype of the “oppressed” Muslim woman.

In her own essay, “Unlikable,” Richmond recalls her shock at being labeled a “feminazi” by a male classmate during a discussion about women’s rights in the seventh grade. She argues that the classification of outspoken women as “unlikable” on the campaign trail, as well as in society as a whole, is rooted in gender.

Richmond said she was impressed by her peers’ enthusiastic commitment to the project, despite the pressure of SATs and other school demands.

“It’s hard as a young person to find a place where you can do something to make an impact,” she said. “I want this book to give these teen activists a platform so that readers see we have strong voices and insights, and that equality is important to support regardless of who you are or how you identify.”

“Young & Feminist” is available at Amazon.com and at Harvest Fair on Sunday, Oct. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Newton Centre Green. For more information, visit abbyrichmondbooks.com.

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.

Book Review

YOU PLAY THE GIRL
On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, and Other Mixed Messages
By Carina Chocano
275 pp. Mariner, paper, $16.95.

As a television and film critic, Chocano has been watching variations of the same story for years. In her collection of essays, she describes her work as “consuming toxic doses of superhero movies, wedding-themed romantic comedies, cryptofascist paeans to war, and bromances about unattractive, immature young men and the gorgeous women desperate to marry them.” Our cultural landscape is a bleak one, and Chocano, on a descent into it that she describes as a spiral, finds enough to drive anyone mad.

Chocano dedicates the book to her daughter, Kira, her companion on a self-imposed heroine’s journey through the tropes of contemporary culture. Kira loves films like “Sleeping Beauty” in which the central characters’ powers are linked to their prettiness. Chocano, meanwhile, worries that her daughter is absorbing stories in which girls play the grail and not the hero. As for herself, as an adult woman, she worries about being asked to identify with archetypes of murky depths. Once “you’ve glimpsed the social, political, historical and ideological underpinnings of every text ever constructed,” she explains darkly, like a fairy-tale villain imparting a wicked curse, “you’ll never again see stories in the same way.”

The cultural formulas that Chocano identifies are frustrating, but her readings don’t deny them their fun. She recognizes that it’s possible to enjoy stories even when you know they’re silly at best and poisonous at worst. In the tradition of a long line of women writers, Chocano wants to make sense of this sort of enchantment and understand what kind of education it is offering up, and to whom. Out of all the little girls who need rescuing, Chocano finds herself relating most to Alice from “Alice in Wonderland”: a girl who falls into a society with such nonsensical standards for etiquette, it’s a relief to return to Victorian England, where at least there are clear directions for how women should behave.

ONE DAY WE’LL ALL BE DEAD AND NONE OF THIS WILL MATTER
By Scaachi Koul
241 pp. Picador, paper, $16.

Before accepting this assignment, I disclosed that I knew Koul. “All Canadians do,” I explained, the hyperbole only partially comedic. Canada is a small country, if we’re being nice; hermetic, if we’re being honest. In that cramped, twisty rabbit hole, Koul and I have run parallel for most of our personal and professional lives. Her new essay collection is, fittingly, about how physical borders become psychic landscapes. Her essays take place in Calgary, where she grew up; Toronto, where she went to school and now lives; India, where her family immigrated from; and in the skies between all three, where her fear of flying has to take a back seat for her family.

Koul often cites David Sedaris as an inspiration, and his influence can be felt in the way she relates dark family dynamics as punchlines. The title of the book comes from a conversation Koul had with her cousin, Sweetu, who — exhausted from the stress of attending her own wedding — complained to Koul she felt as if it would never end. Koul corrected her with the reminder that death comes for us all: hardly a comfort, but a worthwhile distraction. Koul’s relationship with her father is likewise tense, fraught and played for laughs, both in the emails from him that appear as interludes (in one, he makes it obvious he doesn’t know her birthday; in another, he asks whether a compliment from her boss was sarcastic) and in the final essay, “Anyway,” about a long period of estrangement after he disapproves of her moving in with her long-term boyfriend.

It’s unclear whether the jokes she makes are hereditary or reactionary; she writes about sharing some of her parents’ weaknesses, fighting against others. Her humor could be a coping mechanism against, or a symptom of, that familial angst. In Koul’s writing, the emotional experience of anxiety is rendered, paradoxically, in a relaxed tone. Loss, pain and suffering are treated with the knowledge that they will happen eventually, and what’s more, something even worse could come. She captures well that leap our minds make to manufacture catharsis when faced with what appears to be a bottomless pit of despair.

BITCH DOCTRINE
Essays for Dissenting Adults
By Laurie Penny
373 pp. Bloomsbury, $27.

To publish primarily online is to contend with the commenter, that critical form open to anybody and bound by nothing, encouraging the very best and worst reactions. In her latest collection of essays, Penny, a writer who has spent over a decade as a columnist and a journalist, compiles a recent history of works that have inspired many a comment. Here are hot takes on the 2016 American election, reviews of books about how women can have it all, assessments of films like “Star Wars,” “Mad Max: Fury Road and the latest James Bond, interjections in the debate over “safe spaces,” and her views on Valentine’s Day, to name just a few.

Penny pays tribute to many women who did similar work before her. One essay, “If Men Got Pregnant,” pays explicit homage to Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate.” Another, on the work and writing of Nellie Bly, offers an implicit comparison between Bly and Penny. Loosely sorted into sections including “Gender,” “Agency,” “Violence” and “Future,” her writing seems to speak directly to the presumed audience at the original time of publication, anticipating their varied responses. There are frequent references to the people she assumes will disagree with her politics (but then why would they read this book?) as well as the people she assumes already agree with her (but then why would they need this book?). All of this left me lost inside one of the many rhetorical riddles inherent to the internet. Without knowing who will read — or comment on — her work, Penny ends up fighting everybody and persuading nobody. Reading it made me feel like Alice, with Penny as the Cheshire Cat: She seems to say, gesturing to our Twitter feeds, that we’re all mad here.

Haley Mlotek is a writer and editor based in New York.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page 26 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Feminist Essays. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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