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The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir (Live Girls) Paperback – August 2, 2002

3.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Childhood is morbid," declares Tea, author of the Lambda Award-winning Valencia, in this gritty girlhood memoir. As a kid, she perfected the art of playing dead. In her teens, she was deep into Goth-black lipstick and lace, her hearse-driving boyfriend and other grim reaperesque fashions. In lush detail, she describes growing up on the other side of the tracks in the Boston suburb of Chelsea. Her alcoholic father abandoned the family, and her mother was overworked. Tea longed to possess cool clothes, experimented with drinking and drugs, had sex with boys and then with girls. Recounting these bits leads to an obsession with proving that her stepfather had bored holes in the house's bathroom and bedroom doors so he could spy on Tea and her sister when they were growing up. However, his confession isn't exactly gratifying; Tea wishes he had actually "grabbed" her, wishing for the "indisputable trespass of a hand," which would have made her the unarguable victim of sexual abuse. Tea finally walks out of her mother's house for good, proclaiming herself not a woman but "some new girl, an orphan." The writing is well-honed (e.g., Tea describes her father extracting lobster meat as "pulling fingers from a glove"), and the image of the "Chelsea whistle" is poignant ("the boys it meant to call were the boys I would need to be saved from"). However, the book's starts and stops, coupled with a disappointing ending make her account ultimately unsatisfying.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Tea's memoir of growing up poor and white on the East Coast in the 1970s and '80s begins with her playing at being dead with her cousin and sister. Death and a sort of stagnant life in death were pretty much what this aging, "graffitied" working-class suburb of Boston had to offer its inhabitants. Tea's formative years aren't unusual, given her class background or the time. Her parents are divorced, and soon after their separation, her father, whose upbringing has left him completely unprepared to relate to his wife and daughters, deserts the family. Tea's biography is her attempt to explore the truth of her childhood, including incest. What makes it remarkable is her flair for description and her ability to recall vividly the indignities of her childhood. Tea has written a powerful and useful narrative for other incest survivors. June Pulliam
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Live Girls
  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Press; 1st Seal Press Ed edition (August 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580050735
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580050739
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,919,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By laura joakimson on December 3, 2007
I never really thought about Amazon editing these reviews but in my last review I wrote the word b**!&#t and it was not posted. So this time I will write more nicely....

Michelle Tea's memoir is no b**!&#t in its honesty and brutality about the growing up of girls. I worked in a reformatory school for girls in a new England town, an experience that scarred me (and I think the girls too) as the 12-17 year olds I worked with were labeled naughty and dirty although with only one clear exception had been more damaged than damaging. Every day the girls were given five minutes to shower and another thirty minutes to dry and curl and spray their hair....to socially conform or face punishment.

Which is to say Tea's memoir strikes me as true to a specific time and place and yet surprisingly, humanely funny. As in the chapter where she talks about her elementary school fear of being pulled aside by a high schooler and hooked on drugs with the use of a mickey mouse stamp with LSD on the back. The kind of rumors and paranoia and fear that waft through small towns in America waft through this memoir and each chapter contains beautiful and true minutia about the props and tenderness and toughness of girlhood.

Like maybe all good memoirs, Tea's childhood story outlines a betrayal....despite all her best intentions to stay free of the harms, microbes and miscreants lurking on the outskirts of her world, to not cause her overworked underpaid mother more trouble, a betrayal from within. I won't say more here except that the way she writes about this experience is fresh, poetic and clear. Those who criticise the ending seem to want something that non-fiction can't provide, which is clear closure. The concept of closure is nice, but rare in long-lived family dramas.
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What can I say about Michelle Tea and her writing that hasn't already been said in a positive light? She is the most honest, unafraid writer I have ever had the pleasure to read, and The Chelsea Whistle is a daring, heartbreaking, wonderful continuation of her life story. Her writing is beautiful, everflowing and wonderfully descriptive. She pulls no punches, neither to protect herself nor to protect or punish the people around her. The thing I love best about her writing is the picture she presents of a whole person; she trusts her audience to see truth in whatever way they find it. She is able to pull words from the dark places in her that are universal but never said--she makes the whole human experience come to life in the way that we all know it in our hearts, and she does not purport to be special in her own experience. I don't know what Publisher's Weekly read, but I did not find her writing choppy, and if the ending is disappointing, it is only that her character is not done growing, as perhaps the PW reviewer hopes for. Michelle's is a life in progress, and I cannot wait to read the next chapter.
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Tea's memoir is an amazing glimpse of a teenager's life in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Being a fellow New Englander I can hang onto every word she says and feel that is sad but true. Tea bases the book around her insanely complicated family life, while adding snippets of inner city adventures. Serious and funny she pulls you through a whirlwind of emotions and issues without asking you to sympathize with her.
She lives through a divorce, her step-father's harassment and deals with being a lesbian in a place where there is no such thing. It is a quick read and well worth it.
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By A Customer on October 13, 2002
Michelle Tea's newest "The Chelsea Whistle" is filled with insight and explanation into the world of not-quite-poverty in the small town of Chelsea. It paints a bleak picture of how one girl experiences the bitter abuses,contradictions, secrets, and betrayals of her family and how despite the fact she manages to hope. "The Chelsea Whistle" is at times languid, dramatic and emotional and with the flip of a page abrasive, crude and blunt. It is written with a powerful voice that is honest and ultimately hopeful with just a dash of humor. Reminiscent of Judy Bloom, Tea writes herself like a composite of the best young heroines from the books of her youth. Although it's quiet ending has disappointed others, this reader finds it refreshing and true to life - which does not wrap up our hardships in neat little bundles ready for Hollywood screens or Tuesday night movies of the week. And this book is all the braver for it. Thank you, Miss Tea for telling it like it is.
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What an incredible coming-of-age story. Michelle Tea's ability to capture that awkward period of adolescence is downright uncanny. She describes, better than anyone I've ever read, what it feels like to grow up confused--both proud and ashamed of who you are and where you come from.
Her story is full of such vivid characters (like her alcoholic, Polish father who eats tripe & keilbasa) and heartbreaking stories (same dad throwing her, her mother, & her sister out of the house, onto the street) that you constantly have to remind yourself that this is a memoir and not just a sensationalistic piece of fiction. It is truly entertaining. It is also quite inspiring--that despite Tea's obstacles and lack of opportunities growing up, she is still able to craft such a vivid and eloquent account of her life. What a talent.
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