Lexi Freiman’s debut novel, Inappropriation, centers on Australian teenager Ziggy Klein just after she leaves her Jewish school to attend the all-girls private school Kandara. Taking us through the day-to-day life of Ziggy, Freiman masters the art of satire, poking fun at both high school culture and identity politics. In some sense, this can be described as a satirical coming-of-age novel, as a pre-pubescent Ziggy attempts to understand herself and her place in the ever-changing high school landscape.
Ziggy’s mother is a hippie-type psychotherapist who believes in a strict gender binary and hosts group therapy sessions out of her home. Ziggy’s friends, Lex and Tessa, are immersed in a world of conflicting ideologies, in which they seek out popularity while claiming oppression and criticizing the popular girls. Lex is from Bangladesh and was adopted by white Australians, while Tessa wears a prosthetic arm. The two preach a misinformed version of “wokeness,” speaking with a sort of dumb confidence about feminism, race, sexuality, and identity politics as a whole. For instance, Tessa, in an attempt at liberal ideology, makes the offensive remark, “They put black men in jail so their wives are forced to be lesbians while all the men inside turn gay…It’s black genocide.” Ziggy questions her friends’ ideas, but quickly absorbs them, attempting, in the meantime, to label herself with some specific identity. For a time, she decides, in her own words, that she is “bisexual genderqueer,” not at all understanding the identity or even the correct phrasing; and shortly after, she changes her mind.
After a falling out with her friends, Ziggy begins to wear a GoPro around her head and identifies as “transhuman,” accusing her school of insensitivity when they ask her to remove it. So, the teachers and administration play along in an attempt to be as open-minded as possible, not wanting to be accused of discriminating against any student’s chosen identity. Ziggy alienates herself from her peers and films them without their permission, even going so far as posting the videos on the internet. Meanwhile, she claims her own version of oppression as a “transhuman cyborg,” often using just the word “trans” and thereby confusing everyone.
While none of the characters in the book are particularly likeable, Freiman’s writing has a way of at least making us root for Ziggy. When she begins to wear the GoPro and dig herself deeper into social alienation, I felt secondhand anxiety and discomfort for the character—which is a testament to the writing. Freiman made me care about Ziggy and want the best for her. When she forms an unexpected coalition with some of the other students near the end of the novel, I felt a sense of relief and hopefulness, as though Ziggy were a real person. While Freiman’s characters felt like caricatures of teenagers, they also, somehow, felt very real.
That said, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out exactly what message Freiman is trying to instill in her readers. Is this a critique of Generation Z and private school/high school culture as a whole, or is it a critique of PC culture and identity politics going too far? Or perhaps it’s both. At one point in the novel, in a strange turn of events, Ziggy alienates the liberals she’s befriended on Reddit through her misinformed understanding of gender politics, and she then finds solace in a right-wing subreddit. In this instance, Freiman is clearly poking fun at both Ziggy and the right-wingers, though a moment earlier, the left-wing subreddit was the butt of the joke when they bought into Ziggy’s misguided rhetoric.
As a whole, though, Freiman’s writing is funny, and Ziggy’s voice carries the novel well. Inappropriation, while somewhat unclear in its message, makes for a compelling and highly entertaining read.
DEENA ELGENAIDI is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her work has also appeared in Electric Literature, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Heavy Feather Review, and other publications.