Review: Tavi Gevinson’s "Rookie On Love" Book Tour

I don’t remember when I first heard about Tavi Gevinson, but I must’ve been about 15 years old and deep in that lovely, angsty teenage phase most of us have scoured from our memories. Although I’ve blocked out most things from that era of my life, I do remember being obsessed with Tavi Gevinson.  

At the time I discovered her existence (circa 2012), Tavi Gevinson was a sixteen-year-old high-schooler from Chicago who had been in the public eye for years after starting a fashion blog called The Style Rookie. On the pre-teen’s corner of the internet, she documented her bold and eclectic outfit choices, topped with a mop of silver hair more commonly associated with octogenarians than eleven-year-olds, and accompanied by witty and insightful comments. The site had grown and Tavi’s fame evolved, making her a frequent figure at Fashion Weeks around the world.

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When I jumped aboard the Tavi train, she’d just started Rookie, an online magazine for and by teen girls that eschewed the weight loss tips or find the perfect prom dress for your body type articles of mainstream teen magazines in favour of poetry, diary entries from girls around the world (I remember particular series that was authored by a teen growing up in a war zone), advice from celebrities like Vampire Weekend, Paul Rudd, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and feminist photoshoots.

I was hooked. That summer I spent days reading everything that had ever been posted on the site. I promptly started my own fashion blog where I’d wear gigantic, floppy hats, dresses with cats on them, and Doc Martens, and binge-watched every episode of Tavi certified shows like Twin Peaks and Freaks and Geeks. More than that, I fell deeper into writing and began making zines and writing articles to submit to various online collectives.

But then things changed. I grew up, made new friends, went to parties, and started talking to real-life boys. I found myself living the typical teen experience, the very thing I’d turned my nose up at before in favour of listening to records (yes, records) about what it was like to be a teenager in another decade, and wishing that my life was directed by Wes Anderson. I took away the core element Rookie had instilled in me, a love for writing, but stopped consuming this niche media about what it was like to be a teenager and became more of one myself.

                                                                                                Courtesy of the New York Times

I still followed Tavi on Instagram, liked photos of her new apartment in New York and snaps of her with Lorde and Malala, but my daily visits to Rookie became more and more irregular. From a distance, I watched Tavi grow into a Broadway and film actress, book editor, and public speaker which is why when I heard she’d be speaking in Boston in February, I wanted to go. It wasn’t with the same manic, fan-girl desire I would’ve had when I was fifteen, nor was it as someone who felt Tavi had something to prove to me. Instead, it was with the genuine curiosity of someone searching for a source of creativity after entering their twenties and starting college, and wondering if this writer and website could be that for me again.

I hopped in an Uber after class and headed to the Cambridge Public Library where I waited in the lecture theatre with a lot of other women about my age. I’d expected the audience to be younger, perhaps wearing the flower-crowns and the flowing, Virgin Suicides-esque dresses that had epitomized the Rookie-girl style when I was 15, but nearly everyone was dressed kinda like me; fairly casual with a dollop of quirk. Tavi herself was wearing simple black trousers and a white, Calvin Klein t-shirt.  

                                                                                                                       Courtesy of Amazon

As Tavi spoke, I couldn’t help but think how strange it was to finally see, in person, someone you’ve grown up with without having ever met. There’s an intimacy between blogger and reader you don’t get with many other types of media. Take your favourite actor for example; you know about them through the way they’ve portrayed a scripted character or their responses in structured interviews. Blogging is a window to someone’s brain, particularly when they’re documenting the emotional rollercoaster of teenage years.

Tavi began by reading an excerpt from a project she’s working on, an introspective, provocative and complex piece about sense of self, relationships, and career, and finished with a Q and A. By the end, I was transfixed. She’d verbalized things I’d been thinking but couldn’t say, things that I felt could shape this next chapter of my life if I could just put my finger on them. For instance, her incredible written piece stirred in me the desire to write more and write better. I don’t just mean essays for class, but things I’m passionate about, that really matter, that explain even a tiny morsel of human existence.

She also explained she doesn’t have Instagram on her phone (she downloads the app when she wants to post a picture and deletes it once she’s done) because she doesn’t want her actions to be guided by the white noise of other people’s opinions and expectations. I realized she’s totally right; it’s so natural now to live your life through the "Is this shareable?" lens (a great Tavi-ism), and doing things purely for Instagram likes or building a ‘brand.’ I love her idea of only worrying about the opinions of close and trusted people.

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Her musings on creativity piqued my interest too. An audience member asked how she has the time to create freely when it seems there’s always a pressure to be productive. In other words, is it okay to just play if you could be doing work? As someone who struggles to watch Riverdale without feeling guilty about avoiding her literature homework, it reassured me to hear Tavi, a very successful human, say that chilling out is totally necessary. She suggested grabbing a colouring book, a relaxing activity that has an element of structure, and telling yourself you’re being productive with things like writing a short story or watching "Bachelor Winter Games" as they can inform your work. As they say: time well spent is not time wasted.

At the end of the night, I bought Rookie On Love, the book Tavi edited, and flicked through it while waiting in line to have it signed. I still expected it to be a lot like the Rookie yearbooks I’d outgrown, but found that this one had grown with me. It included a poem from Florence Welch, who I began listening to properly only a year or so ago, and a conversation between YA authors Rainbow Rowell and John Green, whose words inspired my own novel, the third draft of which I just finished.

Maybe Rookie and Tavi weren’t necessary when I was finishing high school, but that phase of my life has ended and they’re here for the new one.