Girls: Ordinary Girls and Their Extraordinary Pursuits

Girls: Ordinary Girls and Their Extraordinary Pursuits

by Jenny McPhee, Martha McPhee, Laura McPhee
"We drove across America to talk with girls—girls from a variety of landscapes and communities and backgrounds....We traveled through the rolling golden hills of the Palouse of eastern Washington, along the shaded banks of the San Antonio River, onto the trading floor of a brokerage firm in the dizzying heights of a Dallas skyscraper. We spoke with a girl who


"We drove across America to talk with girls—girls from a variety of landscapes and communities and backgrounds....We traveled through the rolling golden hills of the Palouse of eastern Washington, along the shaded banks of the San Antonio River, onto the trading floor of a brokerage firm in the dizzying heights of a Dallas skyscraper. We spoke with a girl who competes in the dying sport of sidesaddle riding; a Hmong girl who became an American citizen. We talked with a blues-rock musician, ballerinas, surfers, an ice skater, a girl who makes and plays with dolls....In this book, we wanted to look at ordinary girls and record both visually and verbally the extraordinary things that girls do and the drives and desires that lead them to do those things."

So begins Girls, a radiant collection of original photographs and life stories by Jenny, Laura, and Martha McPhee, sisters who know a great deal about being girls (they were raised in the sixties and seventies, at the height of the women's movement) and about being around other girls (there were five sisters in the family, not to mention a mom, a stepmom, and four stepsisters), and who are now raising girls of their own. But what is it like to be a girl in America today? What constitutes a normal girl's experiences? How do girls talk about themselves and define themselves? How do they set themselves apart, and how do they fit in? These are the questions the McPhees asked on their cross-country odyssey, which spanned more than two years. Girls is the illuminating, thought-provoking, and ultimately triumphant look at the answers they found.
Girls will introduce you to a rich and diverse population—extraordinarygirls pursuing their passions and "normal" girls discovering creative ways to define themselves. We meet young poets, novelists, musicians, unicyclists, football players, philanthropists, activists, chess players. Beautifully written by novelists Jenny and Martha McPhee and illustrated with the striking black-and-white images of award-winning photographer Laura McPhee, Girls reveals the astonishing scope of girls' lives today, and indicates the spirit, energy, and determination with which the women of tomorrow will fashion the future.

Editorial Reviews

Bust Magazine
...reading their story makes me realize that I have a story, which I sometimes forget. And in an age when it seems like you're nobody if you arne't on MTV, it's nice to be reminded that just doing your thing, no matter what it is, will make you a star.
The McPhee sisters, daughters of Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author John McPhee, traveled across America in search of children who emulate the subtitle of this outstanding volume. Their subjects range in age from seven-year-old composer-pianist Evelyn Saylor and chess player Khadeejah Gray, to twelve-year-old online investor Stephanie Formas to twenty-year-old environmental activist Kory Arvizu Johnson. Their fields of interest are without limit. Anne Onoue helps run a summer camp in Bosnia for war-stunned children, Lisa Welch plays high school varsity football, and Jennifer Williams has been a cancer researcher since age fifteen. What they have in common is the unshakeable conviction that what they want is theirs if they work hard enough and believe in themselves. The photographs are, quite simply, gorgeous. The black-and-white studies of these remarkable young women are the haunting work of Laura McPhee, an award-winning photographer who captures the intensity of each girl's pursuit. Novelists Jenny and Martha McPhee are clearly their father's daughters. They begin each chapter with moving essays that summarize the progress women have made over the years and the doors that have opened for this new generation of motivated girls. The biographies of each featured girl immediately draw readers in to their special worlds. Neverthless it is the very richness and adult flavor of the text that might necessitate some strong booktalking to convince teenagers to take the time to read the words found in this recommended purchase. Illus. Photos. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; SeniorHigh, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Random House, 223p, Ages 14 to Adult. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen SOURCE: VOYA, April 2001 (Vol. 24, No.1)
Library Journal - Library Journal
The three McPhee sisters (Laura, No Ordinary Land; Martha, Bright Angel Time; and Jenny, The Center of Things) journey across the United States to interview girls from a wide variety of backgrounds and environments. The sisters bring us a feminist perspective on selected girls, letting them speak for themselves as they imagine what they are and what they can be. Despite the title, none of the girls seems to be ordinary; each is very talented and driven to succeed. The authors neither state the criteria for selecting the girls used in the book nor dwell deeply enough on each girl's life to provide a meaningful perspective. With black-and-white photographs, this work is interesting but falls short of being dynamic because of its brevity. Larger public and academic libraries would likely have an audience for this work. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/00.]--Sandra Isaacson, OAO/US EPA, Las Vegas Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
7.58(w) x 9.58(h) x 0.83(d)

Read an Excerpt

We are a family of girls—five sisters, a strong-minded mother, and an even stronger-minded grandmother, Thelma, who would have you believe that our family was made only of women.

A favorite story of Grammy's was about a time when I, Martha, was three weeks old. I was a bundled newborn in our mother's arms, her fourth daughter, born six years after the first. My three older sisters, Laura, Sarah, and Jenny, swarmed at our grandmother's feet in matching outfits our mother had sewn out of fabric from Liberty. We were on the lawn at my grandmother's house in Maine beneath an American flag fluttering in the stiff sea breeze. It was 1964. The Atlantic Ocean spread vast in front of us, and the air smelled of salt and pine. "Here," my mother is reported to have said, handing me to her mother. "You can have this one. I've already got three."

"That's simply not true," our mother would say about the story her mother told.

No matter the truth, I was one more girl for Grammy's clan, one more girl to march intrepidly over time in a line of female ancestors that reached back two, three hundred years. My sisters and I followed in the path of Maid Marian of Scotland, who loved to ride horses and had a keen passion for medicine; of Nancy Cooper, cousin of the great James Fenimore and the first woman in our family to earn a higher degree—which she did during the Civil War at Richmond Seminary; of Glenna, an itinerant schoolteacher in the Wild West; of Thelma, our grandmother, a registered nurse at the Brooklyn Hospital; of Pryde, our mother, an accomplished portrait photographer and the grandmother of two girls, so far anyway, and one surprise boy.

When ourgrandmother was in the hospital dying of heart failure, Laura was seven months pregnant with the baby who would become Isobel Justine. On a chalkboard in her room Laura wrote Isobel's name so that Grammy could see it from her bed. Isobel was still just a little octopus in her mother's womb, kicking and turning and bouncing with life as our grandmother was quietly dying. "No, no," Grammy declared emphatically, seeing the name. "That cannot be her name. You must name her Glenna. Name her Glenna for my mother. Glenna was a strong woman. Glenna is a strong name." Her determined, sharp green eyes held Laura. Isobel was of her, of Thelma, and would be hers, a baby bundle in a blanket in her arms on a lawn in Maine. Possessively Grammy pressed her hand to Laura's belly. She was placing Isobel in her matriarchy, giving her a role, dreaming Isobel's future so that she could glimpse it.

Not long after our grandmother's death, Jenny became pregnant with a son. A son? None of us knew what we would do with a boy! Indeed, Jenny cried upon learning this news. He was the first boy in our family in a long time. Jenny named him Tommaso after our grandmother Thelma, whose nickname was Tommy. Now, at three, surrounded by his aunts and his best friend, Isobel, he often asks if he can wear dresses when he becomes a girl, if he can grow his hair long, wear high heels and lipstick when he becomes a girl. At the same time he and Isobel run around the house dressed in cowboy costumes, wielding swords, and shooting pistols.
We began work on this book in the fall of 1997. The idea of having a baby girl myself was still a distant fantasy, though my desire to have a daughter fueled my curiosity about the state of girlhood in this country. As we finished the book two years later I learned that I was pregnant and that the baby was a girl. I could see my grandmother holding her, imagine her looking at the baby and sighing and exclaiming, as she loved to do when something thrilled her—"I've died and gone to heaven." In the sonogram picture, the baby was a big-eyed thing with a vast forehead and an anxious little frown peering out of the chthonic depths. She seemed to be expressing concerned curiosity about what was outside, in the same way, it seemed, as we were wondering, speculating, anticipating what was inside—who will Livia be?

What People are saying about this

Naomi Wolf
The McPhees have criss-crossed this nation, and with wit, insight and an eye for the telling detail, created a narrative that inspires new hopes about what America's girls are capable of, and reassures American mothers and fathers that the sky is truly the limit for their girls. A joyful adventure.
Carolyn See
Charming, beguiling, enchanting, inspiring, Girls will appeal to people of every generation, every walk of life, and every gender. I couldn't get enough of it.

Meet the Author

Jenny McPhee is a writer and translator from the Italian. She has just completed her first novel, The Center of Things. Laura McPhee's most recent publication (in collaboration with Virginia Beahan) is No Ordinary Land. She is a professor of photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and has been the recipient of a number of grants, including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her photographs have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. Martha McPhee is the author of the novel Bright Angel Time and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant for her novel in progress.

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