From novelist Tea (Valencia, not reviewed), a tough, funny memoir of growing up during the 1970s and ’80s in Chelsea, a formidable working-class town five minutes from metropolitan Boston.
Best known for celebrating lesbian life in San Francisco via her books and spoken-word events, Tea here explores in rambling, anecdotal style the childhood and adolescence that formed her. Among her memorable collection of relatives and friends were Marisol, who spoke in tongues, and Kevin, who cried when he woke up in the morning. We meet first Michelle as a kid: not-so-childish games include playing dead and car-wreck victim, but she’s also terrified of the tough boys along her route to the grocery store, of the sickos and the squares of LSD stamped with Mickey Mouse that the nuns at her school have warned about. Nevertheless, she can't mold herself into a proper Catholic girl: “I had a reputation as a slut before I ever kissed anyone . . . [it] wasn't really about what you did, it was about who you were.” Before long, however, it is about what she does, as she and her friends take up drugs, shoplifting, and sexual adventures. On that road, she and her sister confirm what Michelle long suspected: their stepfather peered through carefully concealed holes in the walls at their most private acts. Undone at last by lack of sympathy at home (“He never touched you,” rationalizes her mother), she breaks from her family and goes to live with a female lover, a radical feminist who makes her living as a prostitute, a calling that Michelle also takes up. It’s not a pretty picture of youth, but Tea paints it with imagination, candor, and a heart as fragile as “paper lace.”
Bizarre life choices, redeemed by a sympathetic personal integrity.