three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-Girls Like UsSheila Weller, a six-time author and magazine journalist, explored her own Hollywood-Los Angeles childhood in Dancing at Ciro’s: A Family’s Love, Loss, and Scandal on the Sunset Strip (2003). In Girls Like Us, she examines the lives of the female musicians who inspired her.

The Topic: Although Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon took very different paths, an imagined sisterhood links them. So claims Weller, who explores their lives and music as "the rich composite story of a whole generation of women born middle-class in the early to mid 1940s and coming of age in the middle to late 1960s." With the social milieu, their relationships, and their heartbreaks never far in the background, Weller examines their lives: King, a sophisticated high school student in Brooklyn who wrote songs for the Drifters; Mitchell, who fled rural Saskatchewan to become a folksinger in Toronto; and Simon, an upper-crust Manhattanite famed for "You’re So Vain" and her marriage to James Taylor. Each struggled to gain acceptance in the 1960s and 1970s—not just as artists, but as women who challenged the era’s social mores.
Atria. 592 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0743491475

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"For an exhilarating look at three of the most creative talents of their era, this book is a must read. … The author contends that these women were pioneers who broke the old rules of dating (they grew up in an era when even dispensing birth control to married women was a crime in some states), and they boldly filled their songs with what they learned." Steve Morse

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Weller relies on the recollections of former spouses, lovers, friends, and mentors to paint portraits of these three women whose private love affairs, heartbreak, and tumultuous relationships profoundly informed their public art. This absorbing, well-reported book chronicles a time when women in all walks of life were exercising new-found freedom." John Kehe

Pittsburgh-Post Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Besides being a terrific read, the book is also a reawakening of ourselves at a time when this kind of music defined all our fears and desires. … The historical context gives the book a certain gravitas, especially in determining how these women balanced their personal lives with their professional ones." Sharon Dilworth

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"At times, Weller’s attempts to impose feminist insights feel contrived or overwrought. … If you’re wondering which self-centered male celebrity is the focus of Simon’s You’re So Vain, suffice to say, Girls Like Us is intriguing for both its revelations and the questions it leaves unresolved." Elysa Gardner

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Weller’s portraits of Mitchell and Simon are lively and detailed (if occasionally marred by clumsy writing). But Girls Like Us stumbles toward the end, partly because all three of these women had the headiest times of their lives, and their most intriguing boyfriends, in the 1960s and early to mid-1970s." Stephanie Zacharek

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Although the author’s scene setting is admirable, sometimes she compresses history with a steamroller, making very different events seem to carry equal weight. … She also hints at a legacy that, had it been developed further, might have endowed Girls Like Us with the interpretive power it lacks." Leslie Brody

Critical Summary

How critics received Girls Like Us depended, in part, on how much they embraced or related to the 1960s; the dedication—"To the women of the 1960s generation. (Were we not the best?)"—tells all. Still, reviewers agreed that Girls Like Us has general appeal, much having to do with the juicy details and human interest stories Weller carves around these artists’ relationships, heartbreaks, challenges, and inspirations. Weller, who interviewed only Simon of the three (and relies on interviews from the others’ friends, colleagues, and former spouses), is, ironically, perhaps best on King, though some critics faulted Weller for focusing more on telling rather than showing how all three changed society. Critics also commented on a too-fast pace, weak analysis, and some overwrought language. But all agreed that Girls Like Us is much more than a trip down memory lane.