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Rebel Girl

by Kathleen Hanna

Library Journal Bikini Kill frontwoman Hanna's memoir is a raucous, rousing tale about the power of music and activism. Before becoming a pioneer of the riot grrrl movement of the early 1990s, Hanna grew up in a dysfunctional and abusive household. She used music and singing as a means of escape. After graduating from high school, she attended the progressive Evergreen State College, where she developed her talents in photography, fashion, and spoken-word poetry. It was the feminist writer Kathy Acker who first motivated Hanna to start a band in order to reach wider audiences. Hanna's memoir is chock-full of details about her romantic relationships and her friendships with Kurt Cobain, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Joan Jett, and Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi. She notes her run-ins with Courtney Love and her inadvertent inspiration for Nirvana's breakthrough single "Smells Like Teen Spirit." This is not a memoir about name-dropping, tales of woe, or feminism. Hanna's story is a full-bodied portrait of a fighter and activist who has used music as a way to tackle adversity. VERDICT A vivid, funny, and powerful memoir that will appeal to rock lovers and music historians.—Leah K. Huey

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Publishers Weekly Hanna, lead singer of the punk feminist band Bikini Kill, debuts with a no-holds-barred account of her turbulent life. Growing up with a violent, alcoholic father who once threatened suicide, Hanna began singing as an artistic outlet in college. After her roommate was attacked by a man, Hanna trained as a volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, awakening feminist convictions that she explored in punk band Viva Knievel and—starting in 1991—in Bikini Kill. Later chapters discuss the somewhat accidental origins of riot grrrl, a feminist punk movement that elicited anger from male concertgoers and sexist takes from the media (she’d held the meeting that established it partly to find writers for her zine). Also recounted are Bikini Kill’s late-1990s breakup (they’d go on to reunite in 2017 and 2019), and Hanna’s tenure as frontwoman for the band Le Tigre in 1999, a period during which she gained a measure of healing; though she’d informally counseled women about sexual abuse for years, she’d never processed her own traumas, including abuse by her father, stalkings, and rapes (“I just kept overworking and stuffing it down”). While the narrative feels unstructured in places—early performances, creative tensions between bandmembers, and feminist musings blend together—Hanna’s visceral prose captivates, and she’s refreshingly candid about the riot grrrl movement’s failures, including its whiteness and her “tokenistic” efforts to diversify it (at one workshop, she realized that “BIPOC women were as disappointed in white punk feminists as I’d been by white male punks”). It’s a raw and revealing portrait of a vital figure in the feminist punk scene. (May)

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Kirkus The lead singer of feminist punk band Bikini Kill chronicles her life and career. Before Hanna became a beloved musician and co-founder of the Riot grrrl movement, she was a child trying to survive domestic violence. Her father was a labor union leader whose “untreated alcoholism” led to her parents’ divorce. Hanna left home for Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where she majored in photography. There, she met Tobi Vail and Kathi Wilcox, and they formed Bikini Kill. In the years that followed, the band toured the country, coining famous phrases like “Girls to the Front,” which doubled as a call for girls to join bands and a way for punk girls to feel safer in the face of harassment from male audience members. The author’s troubled past and the realities she observed at organizations like SafePlace, a domestic violence shelter, highly influenced her lyrics, many of them focused on experiences with gender-based violence and sexual assault. After leaving Bikini Kill, surviving Lyme disease, getting married to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, adopting a child, and founding the band Le Tigre, Hanna reflects on everything she has learned in her long career. She is particularly circumspect about the Riot grrrl movement and her views on race, both of which she says have evolved considerably, as well as her history surviving violence. “Male violence didn’t create me,” she writes, “it just made it harder to make my art—but I did it anyway.” Hanna’s book is raw, honest, poetic, insightful, and often funny. Her political evolution is particularly gratifying, especially for readers who grew up with Hanna’s self-admittedly imperfect activism. At times, the text is more of a stream-of-consciousness rendering of chronological events than a structured narrative, a style that is mostly charming but occasionally confusing. An impressively perspicacious memoir from one of feminism’s most influential artists. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.