When the public knows someone as the could-be voice of a generation, there is a lot of pressure surrounding the release of any major work from this figure, especially a debut book. Furthermore, celebrities are often discounted when it comes to the literary world; many dismiss star authors as amateurs who are just looking for another outlet to make money. For Lena Dunham, pressure is not a new concept—after all, she does write, produce, direct, and star in HBO’s acclaimed series Girls—and with the release of her collection of essays titled Not That Kind of Girl, we realize this millennial is no rookie.
Upon first glance at the book’s physical appearance, the typeface recalls perhaps a 1970s self-help book. In the introduction, Dunham references a self-help book purchased at a thrift store that guided her through some difficult, albeit formative college years. Almost instantly the reader gets the impression that Dunham wishes to become our spirit guide into the scary world filled with creepy guys and fad diets. And she assumes this position with an unconventional sort of grace. Her essays read like a girl in English class you can’t help but whisper to instead of learning about rhetoric.
Dunham’s personal essay collection is split into five sections: Love and Sex, Body, Friendship Work, and The Big Picture. Each section is perfectly crafted to be equally funny- bone tickling and simultaneously thought provoking, emulating the type of discourse Dunham usually inspires. Although the collection may be aimed for the post-collegiate demographic, it is easy to see how Lena’s carefully, but painfully, chronicled depictions of her life can mirror moments in a college-aged girl as well. The author delves into painful territory in the essay “Barry”, where she describes a sexual encounter so ambiguous that she failed to realize it was assault until years later. This is a rare moment where her humorous voice hushes into a more instructive, warning tone. Intentional or not, it is essays like “Barry” that can be useful to the younger set of Dunham’s fans; where Lena fell into unchartered territory, we learn by her mistakes to take personal care so we can avoid these situations ourselves. A reader can find herself in even the most cringe-worthy moments of Lena’s experiences.
Immediately beginning the collection, one finds herself feeling like Lena has been her best friend for years; as cliché as that might sound, it is undeniably true: Dunham has mastered the art of all things girl. Even more importantly, she has figured out a way to talk to us so we want to listen and have rib-splitting moments of catharsis. Who couldn’t love a girl who willingly admits she likes to enjoy a loaf of bread whilst taking a shower?
It is easy for a fan to toot the horn of Lena Dunham; after all, she is the paragon for successful, modern females everywhere. It is a matter of near impossibility to criticize the debut book as how can someone be shamed for putting herself wholeheartedly out in the open? Unfortunately, she has experienced this critique before with the constant commentary on the amount of body exposure in her television show. It is with great hope that Not That Kind of Girl will reach many young readers so we can apply what she’s learned into our own stumbling existences. Lena Dunham may not be the voice of our generation, but she is the voice we need to get us through every rough break-up, awkward hook-up, and unexpected triumph. She marches ahead with an unbroken spirit, inspiring all those who have been pushed around to do the same with equal amounts of zeal. The critics may always jest as she represents the unconventional image of what it is to be a female, but as for Dunham and her fans, we will keep trying to figure exactly what kind of girls we are. Perhaps we already know.