Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Given how often their celebrity representatives are photographed clubhopping sans panties, it’s no wonder that teenage girls are frequently labeled as vapid, self-destructive and apathetic. Thankfully, Red, a collection of essays written by teenage girls and edited by journalist Amy Goldwasser, paints a more optimistic picture of female adolescence. The writers represented may fall into some recognizable stereotypes—many are boy-crazy and insecure about their bodies—but they’re also deeply invested in articulating what’s wrong with the world today and how they intend to change it. Apathetic these girls ain’t.

After receiving close to 800 submissions from all over the country, Goldwasser selected 58 for this compilation. The topics are appropriately diverse: Johnny Depp, the horrors of gym class and the 9/11 terrorist attacks are all addressed. But distinct as they are, these essays feel of a piece, offering insight, humor and moments of devastation, often at the same time. Lots of Red’s contributors want to have fun, such as Emily Kaplan, whose essay is titled “Ode to My Breasts.” What’s best about the book, though, is its unself-conscious ambition and integrity, qualities that can be hard to come by in writings by contemporary adults. As 14-year-old Sarah Schelde advises in her ode to Stephen Colbert: “You can’t be steered away from your version of the truth, at least not if you want to make it farther than the small town you grew up in.”

If these contributors are, as the book jacket claims, “the next generation of American writers,” we have much to look forward to. For anyone who is or ever was a teenager, Red is a revelation.

—Katie Vagnino

Edited by Amy Goldwasser. Hudson Street Press, $21.95.