You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves

Whitney, Diana (editor). You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves. Workman, 2021. ISBN 9781523510993 $14.95


I bought this in a bookstore and devoured it in several sittings, sharing a few choice poems with my 10-year-old daughter and then slipping it on the bookshelf of young adult literature outside of her room for when she’s ready to explore it. The collection is of affirming voices that editor Diana Whitney confesses to wanting to have had in her formative years (when she wrote bad poetry). Arranged by emotional experiences, she encourages readers to use the categories as suggestions, not prescriptions. Each section is prefaced with some words of wisdom and highlights from the chapter to come.

In “Seeking,” transgender poet kayleb rae candrilli both admires their body and wishes for it to change shares the coming to oneself through surgery, Sahar Romani writes of coming out, and Elizabeth Spires wishes Google held all the answers. Filed under “Loneliness” Erin Batiste shares increasingly invasive inquisitions, presumably from peers, that tear a young woman’s identity apart and Elizabeth Acevedo worries about the first day of school.

The section titled “Attitude” features Lucille Clifton, Amanda Gorman, and Maya Angelou. Within “Rage,” Whitney encourages for anger to lead to action: “Let the poet’s furor give you courage.” And Dominique Christina has a brilliant stream of consciousness take down for the dude on Twitter who disparaged his girlfriend for having the audacity to get her period while having sex. “Longing” involves desire and yearning, romantic and platonic, for people, places and things. Marie Howe writes of a first encounter of a girl with another girl; Sharon Olds longs to warn her parents from one another before they even meet at college in the 1930s. Under “Shame,” British Indian poet Nikita Gill writes in Wolf and Woman “Some days / I am more wolf / than woman / and I am still learning / how to stop apologizing / for my wild.” Other poets write about government assistance, eating disorders, gossip, trying to be liked, assault. In “Sadness” JP Howard addresses what to say to a friend with suicidal ideation. “Belonging” concludes the collection with poems by Naomi Shahib Nye, Mary Oliver, and Joy Harjo.

This is a beautifully designed volume, with vibrant colors and illustration. The text sometimes flips to horizontal, literally forcing the reader to consider another point of view. While not all the poems are perfect for my pre-teen, it is a perfectly well-rounded collection and I know she will pick and choose from them as she needs these words like beacons in the wilderness of adolescence.

One response »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s