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Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Drive-bys, and Other Initiations

3.3  ·  Rating Details ·  239 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
In a fascinating look at how young women are coming of age in America, Vendela Vida explores a variety of rituals that girls have adapted or created in order to leave their childhoods behind. Vida doesn't just observe the rituals, she actively participates in them, going as far as spending a week at UCLA to experience rush—she emerges a Tri-Delt. She also goes to Miami t
Paperback, 192 pages
Published June 12th 2000 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1999)
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Elizabeth Wylder
Decent idea executed in a mediocre manner.

Vida often seems to be mocking the subjects of her interviews/investigations. This wouldn't be too awful if: 1) she actually did it to their faces; and 2) she used her observations to make a point greater than common sense. (The section on young brides is probably the worst offender on both of these counts, as she gets in easy jabs at the physical appearance of the brides- and grooms-to-be, and informs the reader that these teenagers getting married aft
Jan 10, 2008 Kate rated it liked it
Shelves: quick-reads
I read this at work while our computers were down. The author analyzes coming-of-age rituals for U.S. girls, usually after having visited or participated in one of them. In the first and strongest chapter, she infiltrates sorority rush at UCLA. The writing is engaging in part because of her self-consciously sophisticated perspective on the experience. But I think the insertion of her perspective actually winds up weakening the other chapters. I don't care what she, personally, thinks of teen bri ...more
Feb 06, 2009 Kim rated it it was ok
I initially liked the concept of this book -- examining transition/initiation rituals for girls. Each chapter dealt with a different rite of passage -- sorority rushes, debutante balls, gang initiations, wicca ceremonies, etc. The problem is that the author was not at all objective about the girls she was studying. As the chapters crept on, she became more and more condescending in her observations. I got so tired of her describing young girls as naive and desperate without acknowledging the pro ...more
Feb 01, 2009 Cherie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I agree with most of the other reviewers when they say that Vida is hardly objective and treats her subject with condescension. When discussing debutantes, she reveals that she herself was once a deb. Yet she is quick to dismiss her experience as totally different because it was in San Francisco and because she had a different attitude about it.

I grew more and more angry at her tone. She is quick to point out throughout the book that she is a dress-in-black, chain-smoking member of the New York
Jan 06, 2017 Vickie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't realize when I requested this from our local library that it was non-fiction (not that I have a problem with that, I was just surprised). I wasn't sure it was what I wanted to read at the moment. However, once I began, I was delighted with the way the research done by Vendela Vida was presented. Very interesting.
Nov 25, 2012 Emiline rated it it was ok
What bug got up Vida's butt when she was writing this book? I had high expectations based on the summary: an exploration into modern day "rites of passage" for young women. Sororities, quinces, debutante balls! The author makes the point that many of these rituals fail to provide empowerment and meaning to women, and then she highlights how this is so. I stayed on board until midway through the second chapter when it occurred to me that Vida is a sour grape of a person and thus likely a poor can ...more
May 25, 2010 kimberly rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: anyone boring
I thought I would enjoy this book. i am very interested in the subject matter Vida addresses. I am not so interested in her banal and unsurprising insights into the communities she visits.
At first, I hoped it was just a slow start. But halfway through her study of quinces, I knew we were in trouble. Still I trekked on, and by the last chapter on Burning Man I had to resist the urge to throw the slim volume against the wall and stomp on it with my tiger print slippered feet.

No wonder she belong
Feb 10, 2009 Celia rated it really liked it
I had this book on the shelf for years and didn't read it through until last month, when I was looking for nonfiction to recommend to my creative writing students. At first I thought it was an academic treatment of girl culture, but it's really more relaxed than that, more like undercover reportage. It's very readable and well-written. The first chapter, in which Vida, at 26, prentends to rush at UCLA, is very fun. She is actually quite fair to sorority culture, and you can really see her strugg ...more
Dec 05, 2011 Aja rated it it was ok
Shelves: feminism, nonfiction
Really, I think the concept of this book is an interesting one--taking a look at rites of passage initiations for adolescent girls and young women. There's a lot to talk about there. But that's the problem: Vida doesn't. While disgusing herself as a sororiety rushee, Vida goes through the entire rush process and, when it is done, walks away from it so ambivilantly as though to say, "well, that was okay." And that is my opinion on this book: well, it was okay. It was not groundbreaking in the lea ...more
Feb 23, 2009 John rated it liked it
Shelves: library-request
I thought this was a novel when I requested it, along with another Vida book, from the library. Instead of a novel, I wound up with an interesting examination of coming-of-age rituals practiced by girls and women in the United States, with an eye on the ever slippery concept of "community in America." While the source material is a little over a decade old, the book still is engaging and interesting. I don't know that I would have read this without assistance from chance, but I am glad that I di ...more
Jan 05, 2008 Venessa rated it it was amazing
Vida’s first book, non-fiction, examines the initiation rituals of girls, from sororities to gangs. I read this book in a night, I found it so fascinating. Vida first takes us undercover during UCLA’s fall sorority rush….follows that with the changing Latin American quincenarana {sp?} in Miami….and debuting in Texas. So makes up Part One; Part Two reveals the violent world of girl gangs, neo-Wicca, and girls who travel to Vegas to marry young, not one of who cites pregnancy as her reason. The ep ...more
Sep 04, 2007 Brad rated it liked it
I read this book mainly from curiosity about the author as opposed to the subject matter. Vida is the wife of Dave Eggers, though they married significantly after she wrote this book. I liked the book in a "glad it's only 180pgs" way. The tone felt inconsistent. The book isn't journalism, nor memoir; instead almost a travel journal investigating situations. Vida does little to disagree with or challenge her preconceived notions of what she will find. Still, the book interested me by describing s ...more
May 15, 2010 Kristin rated it it was ok
A collection of essays/anecdotes about various modern rituals that mark girls' transition to womanhood, from sorority rush week to female gang initiations to debutante balls. I thought it was an interesting idea to try and tie together such varied events, but it really didn't work well - she had to work way too hard to try to try and string it all together into some sort of cohesive narrative. Also still not sure how her trip to burning man fit into this, or the chapter on wicca - very random...
Jul 10, 2007 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book! It is a piece of non-fiction that operates under the basic thesis that many young (18-21 year old), North American women feel the need for some rite of initiation and belonging to a group other than their family unit. It examines the rites of initiation to a major US sorority (at UCLA - where Greek life is serious business), Texas debutante balls, girl gangs, Wicca covens, and Vegas wedding with the under 20 crowd.

It is eye-opening and at times a bit sad.

I thoroughly
Aug 17, 2007 Kara rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: feminists; women interested in ritualized womanhood
When I first read this, I loved it. I felt like it was an interesting idea, to go "undercover" and try to understand what different initiations into womenhood really meant. But I agree with one poster here who said it was like she tried too hard to find some deep meaning but came up short. In theory it's neat, not so amazing in the delivery. But I still really liked it and would recommend forward.
Nov 07, 2010 Hilary rated it it was ok
This is a pretty topical investigation of a really interesting idea. Female coming of age rites are very interesting (to me) but she sort of skims the surface of all of them instead of really discussing in depth any of them. It is pretty obvious that she has her feelings about each set up prior to her immersion into the celebration, which also weakens her argument, at least from an ethnographic stand point. And, um, Burning Man? Really?
Emma Veitch
Aug 24, 2011 Emma Veitch rated it liked it
I love vendela's topic and some of the encounters are fascinating and beautifully told... but this just didn't quite hang together enough for me. Particularly the Burning Man chapter stuck out as not fitting with the rest of her theme -- an amazing, weird trippy thing but just didn't flow with the rest of the book.
vendela chooses various initiations and ritualistic groups to determine how women form bonds or community. she covers deubante balls in houston and girl gangs in los angeles. i think any one of these chapters would make a compelling novel on its own (except for the burning man chapter, which held little appeal for me).
Mar 13, 2012 Abby rated it it was ok
Eh. Since the topic is so interesting, I was disappointed by her surface level analysis and condescending tone. Plus, an inexplicable, unrelated Burning Man epilogue that would totally offend me if I were a die-hard burner: "I get the sense that a lot of people at Burning Man don't go to parties at home, and so a lot of them act the way they think people do at parties."
Laura Fultz
Feb 22, 2015 Laura Fultz rated it did not like it
I really enjoyed her first essay on Sorority Life, but none of the others really stood out to me, and I felt myself annoyed by her. I found her journalistic style too heavily judgmental and opinionated when to get a true feel of what she was writing about should have been as unbiasedly written as possible.
May 07, 2008 Carina rated it it was ok
Hm. I can now tease my Southern friends about debutante rituals.

11/2 Update:

I met the author's husband the other night and, unlike everyone else in my generation, haven't read any of his books. Also, didn't know Vendela Vida was his wife. We did bond over Swedish speaking family members. Apparently, according to Husband, this book is not that easy to find. Thanks, Oakland Public Library.
Feb 04, 2009 Lena rated it it was ok
It was okay. The author, in writing about sorority rush and the debutante balls, is very sarcastic and her true feelings about these "rituals" come thru, but the rest of the book seems more objective.
I liked this book. The chapter on gangs was the most eye-opening (and depressing) and the chapter on sororities was the most fun.

I didn't get the epilogue on Burning Man. It doesn't fit the rest of the book. But, um, I guess it made it longer?
Kristina Gibson
Feb 17, 2009 Kristina Gibson rated it really liked it
This book had some interesting segments and I liked the idea of looking at modern day rituals and rights of passage. It ultimately strikes a pretty pessimistic note about the meaning or lack thereof for today's youth.
An interesting book, but doesn't tell me anything new ~ some girls are just nasty, catty, mean bitches. Vendela Vida appears to use peer pressure and adolescence as an excuse. Unfortunately, I have found that many women remain this way far into adulthood :(
Emily H.
Dec 04, 2007 Emily H. rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
If you like to read nonfiction accounts of female coming of age rituals, this book is the one for you. Quincenara, debutante balls, gang initiation shootings, wicken ceremonies, and more. A lot of research on fascinating subjects. It makes you glad you're not a teenager.
Jul 24, 2007 krystal rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sort of like watching My Super Sweet 16. Feels like she's trying hard to find hidden meaning in whatever she's observing (debs, quinceneras, las vegas weddings, wiccans) but doesn't really come up with anything. the things themselves are interesting though.
Aug 30, 2016 Rochelle rated it did not like it
Am surprised this is the same author of "Let the Northern Lights Erase your Name". This book is written in a condescending voice. Every person interviewed was portrayed as a loser. Would love to read this in a voice that doesn't judge. Ugly writing. An ugly read.
Jan 30, 2008 Julia rated it liked it
it was VERY dated... very 90's both in the cultural references and the perspective. it was nevertheless an entertaining read. more memoir and unofficial record of what goes on in various "rites of passage" for girls. i thought the burning man bit was irrelevant but interesting...
Jul 25, 2011 Tori added it
2010- I felt like I had already read this book before, which is to say nothing here was new. Additionally, I understand why the author choose to focus the epilogue on Burning Man, but I felt this section felt tacked on and separate from the rest of the stories.
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Content 1 5 Jun 20, 2009 07:29PM  
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Vendela Vida is the award-winning author of four books, including Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Nameand The Lovers, and a founding editor of The Believer magazine. She is also the co-editor of Always Apprentices, a collection of interviews with writers, and Confidence, or the Appearance of Confidence, a collection of interviews with musicians. As a fellow at the Sundance Labs, she developed L ...more
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