It is increasingly difficult to find fiction for young girls which does not promote a material lifestyle, such as getting the latest designer bag or the newest beauty product to help your lips look plumper and eyes look bigger. In a world dominated by waif-like women and the need for more, more, more, Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls is a refreshing compilation of 15 new short stories. Each story revolves on strong, young females who yearn to break away from the arbitrary beauty ideals imposed upon them. Cleavage tackles a variety of topics, from love and sex, to body image and even discovering that your mother is completely waxed bare 'down there.'
In today's society, our senses have become dulled to the amount of advertising we are exposed to each and every day. Young women are being sent mixed messages from every angle, from the media to their very own mothers. Teenage girls are particularly open to these messages because they are in the process of developing and discovering who they are. As a young woman, it can sometimes feel like you are in the middle of a tug of war between parental or other influences, peers, and advertising. When you are unsure of yourself, you are increasingly susceptible to these influences.
Cleavage showcases this tug of war that occurs while growing up. One short story, in particular, uniquely demonstrates the way media and teen magazines can have an influence on young girls. 'Faceless on the Farm,' by Ann Sutherland takes the form of several letters written back and forth between a teen magazine editor and a young girl who lives on a rural farm. 'Faceless' captures the way teen magazines encourage young girls to use makeup as a placebo to aid self-esteem. It creates a snapshot of the pressure girls feel to 'uncover their beauty' through make-up and various products, while ignoring their true beauty.
The only criticism a reader may have is that some of the stories feel slightly stunted, with conclusions that approach far too fast. In 'My Mom is a Freak,' by Ev Bishop, the reader becomes absorbed in a tale showcasing a typical mother daughter relationship. In this story, a young girl named Savannah-Lynn is upset with her mother who will not let her buy clothes and makeup. Almost every girl can remember a time when she and her mother clashed and will relate to this story. 'My Mom' is well written, but concludes itself far too quickly, leaving the reader feeling confused. This could simply be due to the short story format.
Despite this, the strengths of the compilation certainly overcome its weaknesses. The characters in each story are relatable, making the reader feel for them, which is the ultimate strength of this compilation. In Jennifer Filipowicz's 'My Not So Ballerina Boobs,' the reader is introduced to Meghan, a 13-year-old girl who is trying to adjust to the C-cup breasts she grew overnight. For young girls who are in the process of going through puberty, this story is excellent. Meghan is a character which many girls will be able to relate to because she is strong, and real. A young girl will discover that she is not the only one going through these changes, even though it may seem that way.
Cleavage is an excellent anthology that shows young readers that it is alright to break away from the norm, and to be your own person, no matter what your friends, or even your parents think. The reader is able to see their insecurities which make them both vulnerable and endearing. For young girls who are in the throes of adolescence, this book allows girls to take pride in their bodies, and their selves, just the way they are.--Katie O'Connor
Katie O'Connor is a recent graduate of Carleton University's political science program. She is currently living in Toronto.