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  • Tess Buckley

Trick Mirror Review

What do scams, drugs, the birth of the internet, and athleisure have in common? To Jia Tolentino, these are the cornerstones that define her generation’s ethos. In her 2019 New York Times best selling essay collection, Trick Mirror, millennial Tolentino reflects on how not only she, but all of us, can be deluded by the promises of a more perfect life. With humor and keen insight, she explores niche topics, like the relationship between Sweetgreen and capitalism or YA books and feminism to cut through the illusions that we buy into. For me, she is like a cool older sister lending guidance to navigate the turbulent realities of the 21st century.

Tolentino is a Phillipina Canadian-American author, who was raised in an Evangelical Christian community in Houston, Texas. As a teen, she was on the reality TV show Boys vs. Girls Puerto Rico before attending the University of Virginia on a scholarship. Following her graduation from UVA with degrees in English and political theory and thought, she spent a year in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan. She then went on to the University of Michigan to complete her MFA. She became a contributor at the blog The Hairpin, then an editor at the feminist blog Jezebel. She is currently a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Tolentino is an unlikely feminist. Her early years in the conservative megachurch of Houston, Texas could have stifled the development of her feminist mindset, but this was not so. She has retained her understanding of conservative American culture, while developing her liberal, feminist views.

While many of the essays in Trick Mirror explore social trends, some are deeply personal. In “Ecstasy”, Tolentino details her experiences with religious ecstasy at her childhood church, as well as her experimentation with LSD and codeine. She is very open about her lifelong recreational drug use, beginning in highschool and continuing through the present. It may be surprising to some that a woman who is a self admitted “stoner” is so prolific in her writing, but for Tolentino’s dedicated fanbase it further demonstrates her authenticity.

Considering how Tolentino enjoys a good time, it may not be surprising that I recently met her the night before a music festival she was attending. She was in DC moderating a women in media panel and I spoke with her after the event. In person, she was just as witty and charismatic as she is on paper. She wore the coolest outfit ever: a bright green blazer and white leather boots, an ensemble which kind of blew my mind. She signed books, spoke to fans, and was generous with her time. Her patience and kindness cemented her role in my mind as a wise older sister.

Meeting her reminded me of why I value her critiques. They never feel condescending because she is one of us. She herself has bought into the illusions she rails against, and that is why I value her opinion. She makes me feel ok about my delusions.

Right picture: Tolentino and the author.


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