Book Review: Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:17 am

Based on the Vice magazine column of the same name, Dear Diary is a genius idea: Arfin’s diary entries from ages 12 – 28, with commentary and interviews with some of the major players throughout various stages of her life. Anyone who’s ever been a teenage girl with squirm with recognition at the raw emotion of Arfin’s teenaged writings; the urge to fit in and the sense that she’s failing at doing so, the complicated friendship structures that fall away without notice or reason.
This alone would be enough, but there is a darker grain to the book. Arfin began experimenting with drugs in high school, and by midway through her college degree was a fully-fledged heroin addict. The latter part of the book deals with her stints in rehab, her ambivalence towards kicking her habit, and her occasional startling moments of clarity about what her life has become.

Arfin’s prose style is a dream; the diary entries themselves as well as her commentary sing with life and pull the reader into her world. Reading the book was like having a coffee with an old friend who’s disappeared out of your life for many years and has now come back with some amazing, heartbreaking, funny and cautionary tales to tell. It’s kind of like Go Ask Alice would have been if it was a) well-written, b) not made up and c) not misogynistic, anti-drug propagandist crap.  Dear Diary has the kind of hipster veneer that you’d expect from an offshoot of Vice, but it doesn’t glorify addiction; the poetry is in Arfin’s writing and how she perceives the world, not in the drugs she takes.  The romance comes from her eventual falling back in love with the world and herself, not some hackneyed form of drug worship.

This is the kind of book I would have loved as a teen; okay, it’s the kind of book I do love as a non-teen.  But, riveting as Dear Diary is now in my latemid twenties, I can imagine that it would have been even more compulsive reading for my teenaged self, with Arfin being middle class and familiar enough that I could feel like I shared some parts of her life, while other parts – the obvious drama of her story – making it alien enough to be captivating.  Dear Diary is definitely something I’ll be sharing with the other ex-teenage girls in my life, and probably the actual teenaged girls as well.