Tavi Gevinson Reinvents the Teen Magazine with Rookie
Rookie Yearbook One
edited by Tavi Gevinson
(Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95)
Elfin 16-year-old Tavi Gevinson is an eloquent writer for her age—it's not that you can't tell she's a teenager from her breathless style and references to school, but her meandering thoughts on fashion, adolescence, music, etc. are incisive and self-aware in a way you don't expect. She's also steadily growing her fan club far beyond the crowd of people gawking at the novelty of a precocious teen.
If you haven't been tracking her rise, here's the short version: Gevinson started a fashion blog, Style Rookie, when she was just 11, and it soon reached more than 50,000 readers a day, attracting a ton of media attention. (She famously had to explain the blog to her parents when the New York Times wanted to interview her and she needed parental permission.) After skyrocketing into the sort of weird minicelebrity that could warp a person—sitting next to Anna Wintour at fashion week, getting gifted clothes from idols like Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love, befriending Ira Glass—she shifted focus from fashion to feminism and teamed up with Jane Pratt, editor of beloved '90s magazine Sassy, to create an online magazine called Rookie aimed at teen girls.
With a staff of more than 50 writers, photographers, and artists, including plenty of teenagers, Rookie seems poised to refresh and reinvent young feminist media in smart ways. They publish new content three times a day—after school, dinner time, and late at night. The site has a handmade, crafty look reminiscent of zines, with collages and handwritten fonts and pencil drawings. Rookie regularly curates the kind of contributions that make even adults pay attention: Paul Rudd answering readers' questions in an "Ask a Grown Man" video series; Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, and Miranda July writing about losing their virginity.
The regular creators' content also surprises. When Rookie published a piece on street harassment this spring, it wasn't particularly carefully written—it was essentially a republished Facebook conversation—but it was intelligent young women talking about a shared injustice that remains perniciously invisible. It drew hundreds of comments and sped across the social networks of twentysomething women.
Rookie is more stylish than fellow feminist websites Jezebel or the Hairpin, less commercial than print magazine Bust, more accessible than Bitch's long black-and-white scholarly essays. It slips neatly into a niche that should have more contenders, and it will be interesting to see if the grown-ups can keep up.
Now Rookie has published a print version, Rookie Yearbook One, a sort of greatest-hits collection from the magazine's first year: articles on being a survivor of sexual assault and escaping toxic relationships, interviews with David Sedaris and Joss Whedon, photographic instructions (by Gevinson) on how to give good "bitchface," and advice and encouragement, along with a slew of fashiony photo spreads, playlists, and craft projects. That advice and encouragement is refreshingly straightforward, unpretentious, and useful. On dressing for a party, at the end of an article chock-full of style tips: "Nobody cares what you wear... Just wear what you wore all day. You look fine and will probably have an OK time." A headline: "Vaginas make noises and so do butts and that's how things are." On masturbation: "The most obvious reason you should try masturbating is because you want to. I tried it because I wanted to be as cool as my friends... but I'm glad I did, because masturbating is fun!"
It's a book based on a website inspired by a decades-old magazine and styled after zines, but somehow it works. And as always, Gevinson's aesthetic (she's obsessed with The Virgin Suicides, Wes Anderson movies, and teenage bedrooms) holds it all together. Among her most notable skills is an ability to explore teenage self-discovery in language even adults can relate to, which is probably a big reason her readership has expanded outside adolescent girls. In the essay "Literally the Best Thing Ever: Joni Mitchell," she meanders into a compelling description of what it feels like to be an odd duck:
I think for some people the most difficult thing is coming to terms with the fact that being happy will not come as easily for them as they feel it ought to... That being sensitive and observant sometimes makes you feel more "in touch" with "life" or whatever, but most of the time it just feels like a burden... and sometimes you feel like a brat because... you have to think about it all and that just results in things always eventually being somewhat painful, and it sounds so pretentious, but it's not like it's smart thinking necessarily—it's not like you're better than anyone—it's just that you're curious about things, I guess.