Minnie Goetze is fifteen years old when she writes the first page of her diary, the sequel to Gloeckner’s A Child’s Life. As the months go by, Minnie’s initial revelation that she is sleeping with her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend becomes commonplace as her entries describe about two years worth of experiences that seem calculated to horrify grown-up readers. In many ways, what Diary does best is to show how a young teenager can adjust to a life of exploitative sexual encounters, drugs, academic failure, and nonexistent parental supervision until these incidents seem normal and no longer shocking. Minnie eventually finds some stability and continuity on her own, but it is a painful journey for the reader to watch her blunder from one disaster to another–the story indicts almost every adult (and many of the peers) Minnie encounters with the self-serving abuse of everyone around them. Minnie’s final self-realization at the end of the novel is satisfying, but Gloeckner never lets her story rest for long in a moment when everything seems like it will turn out well. Readers are left with a keen sense of Minnie’s worry and hopelessness, but also without a sense that Minnie will ever be emotionally mature enough to help herself, or to find anyone she can trust.
One of Minnie’s few unqualified pleasures is comics. San Francisco in the mid-70’s was home to one of the largest enclaves of “alternative” comic artists in the country, and the cameo appearances of R. Crumb, Aline Kominsky, and others throughout the story provide a lot of fun for both Minnie and any graphic-novel aficionados in her audience. Watching Minnie’s artwork evolve as she chronicles her life in alternating typewriten text, traditional cartoon frames, singles images, and full-page comics can be more satisfying then her frustrating emotional journey. I don’t think it would be a long shot to suggest that “comics save the day” in this story. In Minnie’s experience, harmful and exploitative influences surround teens as they begin to explore the world on their own, but graphic novels and cartoon art provide a haven of safe and creative self-expression.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl: an account in words and pictures
by Phoebe Gloeckner
Frog Books, 2002