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If you haven’t already read Michelle Tea’s talky, raw, and hilarious memoirs (Valencia, The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, The Chelsea Whistle), now’s the time to start. How to Grow Up, Tea’s newest (and arguably most accessible, though like everything, access is a matter of perspective) memoir, is an astute, self-deprecating, and heartfelt collection of interrelated essays about how this now-40-something mama and wife and thriving human survived the first four decades of her wild life.
I’ve been a Tea devotee for the last eight years, ever since a girl I had a massive crush on recommended Valencia, so as a disclaimer, I’m not surprised that I loved How to Grow Up. The real surprise was how deeply Tea’s new book resonated. As a thirty-something, newly single lady writer scraping together my rent, looking around at all my friends with their grown-up lives (babies, houses, jobs with benefits), I spend a lot of time wondering, Um, did I miss a class or something? How to Grow Up landed in my hands at the exact right moment.
In her introduction, Tea writes, “If you are not yet an adult and fear you may never be one; if you suspect you in fact may be an adult, but your grasp on both the concept and the lifestyle is shaky enough to wake you up at night; … if some of your most ridiculous, irresponsible choices have turned out to be some of the best decisions you’ve ever made; if your path into so-called adulthood has been more meandering and counterintuitive than fast-tracked, then this is a book for all of you, my darlings.”
How to Grow Up is a memoir, but Tea’s hard-won and thoughtful advice reads a little like self-help—if your wise, sassy old sister penned a self-help book. (Seriously, who better to take dating and relationship tips from than Michelle Tea?) These essays embody the authentic clarity of someone who has done her time in the trenches, and who has lived to tell about it, and tell it well.
Tea’s signature style is unflinching—she never shies away from the ugly—and she writes very openly in How to Grow Up about her alcohol and drug addictions, her dating debacles, her struggles with scarcity, but there’s something new here too. Call it contentment or optimism or joy or peace or whatever code word you ascribe to happiness; it undeniably radiates through these essays.
Tea covers a wide range of topics—from addiction to fashion to babies to Buddhism to marriage to food to beauty products—and while not everything she touches on hit home for me, her considerable skill and spark kept me engaged on every page. There are so many lessons being learned in How to Grow Up—how to trust, how to love, how to accept oneself, how to accept life on life’s terms—even if only one of these things apply to you, I’d say: Read this book.
For all of us late-to-the-party adults, for all of us stumbling around wondering how in fact to actually do this thing called adulthood, How to Grow Up is the book we’ve been waiting for. Tea’s resilience is inspiring, and her voice refreshing, at once confessional and self-aware, silly and serious. Books, at their best, remind us we are not alone in this overwhelming world, and How to Grow Up accomplishes exactly that.
How to Grow Up
By Michelle Tea
Paperback, 9780142181195, 300 pp.