Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HIPPIE CHICK by Ilene English


Coming of Age in the ’60s

by Ilene English ; photographed by Ilene English

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-63152-586-5
Publisher: She Writes Press

A teenage rebel leaves her New Jersey home for San Francisco and finds herself swept up in the hippie movement in this debut memoir.

Raised in the Italian Jewish neighborhood of Mill Road in Irvington, New Jersey, English was the youngest of six siblings. She lived in the shadow of a “strict and old-fashioned” mother, who died in 1962 when the author was only 16 years old. English confides: “My mother’s death set me free.” Just over a year later, she moved to San Francisco to live with her sister Carole and her husband, David. The author soon found alternate accommodations “a few blocks off Haight,” at the epicenter of the counterculture movement. She recalls her first sexual experiences, her introduction to marijuana, and her rapid immersion in the hippie scene. The memoir goes on to describe English’s emotional highs and lows, from meeting Janis Joplin and living on The Farm (a community founded in Tennessee by spiritual guru Stephen Gaskin) to coping with abortion and Carole’s development of lupus while pregnant. The author offers an unabashed account of being part of the hippie movement. Regarding “free love,” she discusses the idea that sex “wasn’t that different from hugging someone” but also discloses that she could “often be found sitting in the bathtub afterwards, trying desperately to feel clean again.” English also shows that being a hippie chick was no escape from gender inequality—men expected her to have sex with them, and should she fall pregnant, they assumed she would get an abortion. Even Gaskin abused his position of power by making sexual advances: “Before I knew what was happening, he slipped his tongue in my mouth.” The author’s straight-talking style comes at a price—the book is lacking in rich imagery. For instance, she attended a Doors concert and unimaginatively describes Jim Morrison as “really adorable in a bad-boy kind of way.” An opportunity to transport readers to the event using vivid details is sadly missed. Nonetheless, this memoir, illustrated with English’s photographs, is a revealing account of hippie life from a female angle and will interest anyone intent on discovering the realities that lay behind countercultural ideology.

A candid and engaging account of hippiedom.