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on February 3, 2014
Because I live in the very area where the fictitious author of tales of abuse and child prostitition, "JT LeRoy", was supposed to have arrived in to become a street hustler & author, and because the unmasking of LeRoy as Laura Albert was a big story in my town, I was so excited to get the behind-the-scenes story. Unfortunately, I was left wanting more information about Laura Albert, but I guess that's fair since the focus is on Savannah Knoop, the public impersonator of LeRoy. And it does say so in the title outright...so... I guess I can't fault Knoop for that. However, she isn't really that interesting! She does at least write pretty well, if at times overwrought. Her description of Asia Argento lying in bed was a bit purple-prosey, but since Argento is the object of much desire, I suppose that's ok. I suppose many people who would bed Argento would gush a bit.

The book mainly discusses the evolution of Knoop impersonating JT, appearing in a makeshift costume for interviews, photoshoots and any public appearances, with Albert as her sidekick/handler, "Speedie", as JT rises in the literary world and becomes a media darling, culiminating in a filmed version of one of the books. (Albert would handle extensive phone calling, while Knoop would be the public face of JT.)

The thing that first jumped out to me was: "How in the hell did people buy their shtick?!" Especially Albert as "Speedie"-- a cockney (yes -- cockney!!)street urchin (I actually laughed out loud picturing her going "'Ello, matey! Oim Speeday, and this 'ere's JayTeaa, doncha know!" Ridiculous!), and LeRoy as as homeless southerner, a truckstop hustler. Funny, but those are such stereotypical literary ideas of street urchins (think "Oliver Twist") and "White Trash" (an offensive slur) or "Southern Gothic" characters (think Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and practically any movie made about the South) that it just seems preposterous that so many high profile people bought it all and indulged them in the charade. It's not to say that the original literary depictions had no element of truth, but to see people personifying the "undercaste" in such a cartoonish way is pretty unbelievable. I guess it was the transgender angle that really sold it for the hipster crowd; otherwise it probably would've screamed "Midnight Cowboy" to anybody who was paying closer attention. The sex-worker/addict/writer thing was such a ubiquitous trend in the late '80s -90s underground literary scene, it's hard not to be reflexively suspicious of anyone who claimed to be 'authentic' (whatever that meant).

Yet, in a way, I can also understand how a listener gets put on the spot: you're either a sucker or potentially accusing a very traumatized and vulnerable person of lying, which is one of the worst things you can say to a victim of abuse and rape. Probably no one wanted to say, "You're lying!" even if they suspected it. I experienced a similar thing when a former friend said she had multiple personalities and was a ritual abuse survivor (it was a peculiarly trendy phenomenon in the 1980s). While I think that kind of outrageous thing can and does happen, I really didn't see any evidence of it whatsoever- not even mild depression- and while I doubted her, I just didn't have the heart to question it. Then she asked me to testify in court for her to receive disability for her MPD (basically, I'd be committing perjury) and I just didn't return the call. I tell this anecdote because it seems Albert & Knoop put many people in similar corners ethically and emotionally - apparently, a few people were told that LeRoy had AIDS and therefore didn't have time for a rewrite, as his time was limited...yikes.

While Albert now says having a pen-name is no big deal, and she refers to JT as her avatar, I still have my doubts about this second round of stories (and what do you know, Albert says she used to have multiple personalities! Maybe it's true, but that disorder seems like a perennial favorite of malingerers for its dramatic appeal). So yeah...my verdict is a big old "Whatever" on this current web of stories. Who knows? Many say the backstory is irrelevant to the work, so you'll have to judge that for yourself...but what a backstory! This backstory says a lot about how society views the underclass and the marginalized and how the media tends to eat all in its path and commodifies just about anything.

But there are some really insightful (perhaps unintentionally) snapshots of the JT LeRoy publicity machine, how s/he was an underground darling respected by luminaries like Tom Waits and Lou Reed and encouraged by authors Dennis Cooper and Mary Gaitskill. Gaitskill later claimed that the hoax could be revealing about our notions of abused people, prostitution and so on- and I think she was dead right. This is a very problematic, sticky territory; bringing these tragedies to light is very important --- but how it's done, how it's presented, is also very important to sidestep the freakshow factor, and I wish Knoop had really spent more time exploring these themes here. She's not really insightful enough to do that, I don't think. She doesn't ask enough of the right questions as this is mainly a really bizarre, Warholish coming of age story instead.

This is basically a decently-written sort-of tell-all that unfortunately doesn't give much insight into Albert's motives, which is probably what many people want to know. It doesn't really align with Albert's current stance that she created JT to process her own issues (and the shared stories of other institutionalized youths) that she claims she had growing up as a ward of the state.

I believe Knoop's book came out first, before the 'new' Laura Albert story, and so Knoop doesn't address these claims. Albert did publicly deride Knoop for writing this book, however, so I think she had something to hide, most likely. Knoop basically paints Albert as someone who grew up as a "fat girt", an ugly duckling, and she sympathizes with this as they both have eating disorders. (There is also a very weird passage in the book about Albert making a 'crying loon in flight' sound by rapidly jiggling her loose flab-- Whaaaaaaaat???? While I guess it's supposed to be poetic, perhaps symbolic of Laura's deep longing and crying out, it just comes off as thoroughly bizarre, risible and off-putting).

So this sort of reads like a tale of two middle/upper-middle class 'lost girls' who have talents that they don't quite know how to present to the world that may not be welcoming to them. It doesn't really seem as poignant as it seems to have been intended. The more interesting parts are the interactions with Knoop as JT dealing with celebrities and interviewers who often want to promote a questionable "product" of a supposedly downtrodden person. Meta-Warholian? I don't know... but I wish I'd borrowed this book instead of paying for it.
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on September 11, 2008
Savannah Knoop's well written account of her experience as the body [or wig and glasses] of J. T. LeRoy, the famed but fictitious truckstop-boy-turned-author, is rivetting even if you've never read a LeRoy book or seen the movie. Simply put, the experience of seeing how people react to her when they think she's not just a he but also a victim and a celebrity is a fascinating exposure of the projections people make and of celebrity culture. Knoop captures both the humor and pathos of never being sure what people are seeing or reacting to when they believe her to be JT. Also, it is surprisingly easy to sympathize with Knoop, as she was not the mastermind of the hoax but in many ways simply a conveniently aimless and exploited sister-in-law. Her vexed relation to Laura Albert, equal parts admiration and resentment [and a sorority of shared eating disorders], is uncomfortable but very believable. Finally, this book interests not because it or the JT hoax is important in its own right but because of what it reveals about our insecurities, our self presentations, and our acute desires to be the sort of person, with the sort of experiences, others find desirable or charismatic -- to be, in short, the people we wish to be and are not.
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on October 13, 2008
When the story broke that JT Leroy didn't exist in the way he'd been said to exist, a lot of people on the periphery of this phenomena wanted to know more. Savannah Knoop provides not a typical insider's bitter wail but rather a heartfelt and clear-eyed tale of how the public face of a hip and cool author was created and thrived for a while. She's a good writer and is able to capture some of the manic, slap-dash nature of the enterprise that was JT Leroy and make it a good story.

In telling her part in this created life (her own life is compelling without JT in it) she displays a remarkable sense of having come to terms with being part of an invention that among many things "punked" a whole lot of people who don't care to be punked. But rather than providing more fuel to the fire of those who felt betrayed, Knoop gives a human face to the affair, one that is well-told and provides a sense of how these things are sometimes less than deliberate and more the product of often ingenious invention based on a startlingly clever reading of what people want to hear and in this case, see.

For those who feel betrayed or confused by what some call a hoax, this book goes some way to humanizing the people who put it all together and provide a sense of empathy if not compassion for them. For someone looking for a good read about post-modernist identity, the nature of who we are and especially how most people often see what they wish to see, this would be a good book to get as it is told by someone simply telling their story without pretense. GirlBoyGirl a candid account of the face of a remarkable event in modern publishing and entertainment.
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on April 30, 2014
This book is very well written and relatable from what I've read so far.

However, if you're expecting the author to paint Laura Albert in a good light, well you're in for a different story. I found myself feeling awful for Savannah as well as anyone who had to interact with Laura Albert OR her alter ego, Speedie. Ms. Knoop describes Laura and her many flaws in a way that honestly makes me reconsider being a fan of "JT LeRoy"'s novels, but I have to remember that everyone has flaws and that that shouldn't detour me from enjoying her wonderfully dark works.
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on September 13, 2015
It may not be the best written book out there, but still a very interesting look into what went on with the JT Leroy story. I wish it had been a bit longer.
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on February 11, 2011
I could not put this book down. Savannah's insecurities, her unsureness, and her honesty about her time spent as JT LeRoy makes for an amazing story. I related deeply to her personal struggles and the confusion of finding herself, and was fascinated by how she described going from an insecure teenager to a worldwide superstar. She is not a monster or a manipulator like so many have made her out to be. I saw none of that in this story. What i saw was a really beautiful person on a journey to find herself.
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on September 29, 2014
Great product and super fast delivery. Thank you so much!
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on May 16, 2013
I was really keen to read this, knowing the JT story.
Savannah is a rocking lady, this book is an easy read, you can finish it super quick.
Interesting pics included, and lots of dish on Laura, I loved it.
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on October 4, 2008
Entertaining but painfully egotistic at the same time. She clearly loves attention, exploiting herself and money. To each their own.
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on March 1, 2009
This book... and the writer itself, is a good representation of a sign of the times...people's obsession with celebrity and how they will do anything to get in the limelight.

As is, the initial writer of the J.T. Leroy books, ought to be ashamed of herself. How can she feel no guilt? Most of her initial fans were people who identified with the horrific events described in her book. They related, identified and came to love the character...loved J.T. Leroy...for having suffered and overcome TRUE horrors in life. Thus, putting him/her on a pedestal. A pedestal she would never have been put on if those same fans knew that he/she had not actually gone through ANY of the books detailed events. Does she have the slightest clue what it feels like to be raped? To be abused? To be abandoned? To be sold as meat? How can she receive the accolades of one who has suffered and overcame when she has not done either?

It wasn't enough to profit off of a lie. now THIS book? explaining or trying to justify her actions and involvement in the whole scandal? to pawn off deceit as talent?

Who would care about the drivel that spews forth now?
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