LINDY WEST'S SHRILL is less a memoir and more 10 or so ideas she translated into book form. West touches on her childhood briefly with a handful of hilarious listicles—including a complete collection of fat female role models like popular Disney character Baloo dressed as a sexy fortune teller who "luxuriates in every curve of his huge, sensuous bear butt." West moves into describing adulthood, the largely uneventful circumstances of her abortion, warring with hideous misogynists on Twitter, the time she flipped a picnic table (as well as a personal pan pizza and a Diet Pepsi) onto herself at the Sasquatch! Music Festival, meeting her now-husband, the death of her father, subsequent fictitious Twitter profiles impersonating him (intended to harass her), and a devastating radio segment she recorded for This American Life, about contacting one of those Twitter trolls to try to understand him.
Shrill is about growing up strong and smart and idealistic and fat. West contends that women with lots of ideas are increasingly forced into small spaces—both mentally and in airplane seats—in an effort to make them appear less threatening or to disappear them completely. It almost seems gauche to point out something so obvious, but it also seems like a lot of people don't get it, don't agree (see: daily lava shit flow of people spewing venom at West on Twitter), or just choose to accept it (see: me sometimes).
As a writer for the Mercury's sister paper The Stranger, later Jezebel, and most recently GQ, West has taken on lighter topics—like the classification of leggings as pants—and more complex problems—like her highly respected response to Daniel Tosh's rape joke embroilment of 2012. When West debated Jim Norton on the subject on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, the host called the matchup a comedian vs. feminist debate. But West is as much a comedian as she is a feminist, and it's actually very tempting to get caught up in the humor of Shrill, and gloss over some of the more serious points she makes.
I wish Shrill had been around in the seventh grade, when kids were calling me a whale, so I could have offered up West's whale-positive response of "Oh, I have a giant brain and rule the sea with my majesty?" It wouldn't have stopped them. Bullying has more to do with the misery of the bully than anything the victim says or does, but I didn't understand their motives when I was 12, like—it seems—a young Lindy West did. I'm excited for a 12-year-old to get her hands on this book and I'm glad West went ahead and wrote it, cut the crap, and got that knowledge into the world. A lover of high fantasy for her entire life, West writes: "I do fight monsters, just like I always dreamed, even if they are creeps in basements who hate women instead of necromancers in skull towers who hate lady knights."