Rookie Yearbook One
(Drawn and Quarterly, 2012)
There is a scene in Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides in which Cecilia, the youngest of the ill-fated Lisbon sisters, rests in a hospital bed after her first suicide attempt. “You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets,” her doctor says. Cecilia begs to differ. “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.”
Tavi Gevinson, creator of the online magazine Rookie and blog Style Rookie, self-proclaimed Sofia Coppola fan, and unstoppable force of all things teen and dreamy, has been a 13-year-old girl; in fact, that was only three years ago. Her recently released Rookie Yearbook One, a compilation of essays, artwork, and drawings from the magazine, commemorates the first anniversary of Rookie, which was created to fill the void of quality teen-centric journalism. Typical features on the site include “Hands Off,” an essay by Miranda July about her first brush with feminism; “Ghost Rider,” on one writer’s years-long struggle with depression; and “Breakup Breakdown,” a guide to ending a toxic friendship.
Online, Rookie functions incredibly well as both publication and community. Earlier this year I followed as one of Rookie’s video tutorials (this one on homemade flower crowns) caught a burst of attention with the site’s fans on Tumblr. Rookies made their own headpieces at home and posted portraits of themselves wearing their creations. Day after day, my Tumblr feed showcased photos of girls of all ages and races, posing in intricately decorated bedrooms, smiling (or, in some cases, moodily brooding) in their crowns, which Rookie staffers re-posted with encouraging comments (“AAAH SO CUTE”). Today the Tumblr remains active with users coordinating “Rookie meet-ups,” pow-wows for readers across the country, otherwise outcasts in faraway lands (read: Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico). The cult of Rookie is rather heartwarming in an era of online bullying.
But why would an online magazine that is already in direct conversation with the young women of the Internet generation decide to create a print version of its first year of content? Upon opening Yearbook One, one realizes this is more than a slapped-together “Shit My Dad Says” Tumblr-meme rip. True to its yearbook theme, scrawled notes and inside jokes line the interior covers, though these are not your typical signatures—contributors David Sedaris, Lena Dunham, and Sarah Silverman’s names swirl between hand-drawn hearts and xoxos. Inside, each page has been painstakingly designed and detailed with collage scans, handwritten doodles, illustrations, photographs, and notes to accompany Rookie’s repurposed online features, taking on the appearance of a scrapbook compiled through a labor a love, instead of a black-and-white “best of.”
For some, these decorations may call to mind a print version of overwhelming pop-up ads. The content in Rookie Yearbook One is vast—there are well over a hundred articles—with multiple features and music playlists sometimes sharing the same page. But in this compact printed iteration, Rookie’s mission reveals itself more immediately than online—where content is organized by date and category tags—its scope ranging from the deeply serious to the light-hearted. An interview with John Waters precedes a personal essay on unhealthy relationships; a page of colorful, candy-themed stickers divides a feature entitled “Let It Out,” outlining over 20 ways to get rid of a bad mood.
Longer, thoughtful pieces like “We’re Called Survivors Because We’re Still Here,” a frank discussion about sexual assault, may not have received their due online, as lengthy articles inevitably feel longer on a computer screen. In print, however, the story receives a generous placement in front of backdrop of carefully illustrated planets. “Confessions of a Fangirl” details one writer’s journey down the rabbit hole of Hanson fandom, and its supplementary diary scans, notebook scribbles, and Taylor Hanson cut-outs add the appropriate setting for such a text.
I also can’t help but view the book as sort of a What’s Happening to My Brain? Book for Girls, a portable companion for the confusing teenage psyche. The book doesn’t claim to know all the answers, but it can help with some trickier questions (in features like “Do It Yourself,” a discussion on masturbation, or “Just Wondering,” in which an anonymous reader asks, “How do I get over a guy that treats me like shit?”), and offer inspiration (“Thrifting: The Master Class”) for an otherwise dull suburban Saturday.
It’s been rumored that Gevinson originally set out to create a print monthly, but after complicated business matters Rookie remained online only. Perhaps the Rookie Yearbook One is a way to fulfill that original wish, and an excuse to place the content dear to her in a more conventional space. Sure, it may not be necessary to create a book from a website that already successfully reaches its target audience online, but in the wake of a cyber-junkyard of discarded LiveJournals, Rookie Yearbook One romanticizes the notion of that handmade keepsake: the zine. I can’t see her winning an entirely new audience with this book, but for her followers and the established Rookie community, this is an item to be treasured, leafed through, re-read, and passed around. (She even gives a nod to loyal site commentators, incorporating over 50 user comments culled from the online version of “It Happens All the Time,” a piece about street harassment.)
The first year of any endeavor is one of exploration. For Rookie, and for young Tavi at its helm, it has been a year of finding a place for quality, diverse teen content in a post-Sassy, online market. Its companion book acts as mini-milestone in what I can only hope will be a long, ever-evolving existence.