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The Chelsea Whistle

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,116 ratings  ·  63 reviews
In this gritty, confessional memoir, Michelle Tea takes the reader back to the city of her childhood: Chelsea, Massachusetts—a place where time and hope are spent on things not getting any worse. Tea’s girlhood is shaped by the rough fabric of the neighborhood and by its characters—the soft vulnerability of her sister Madeline and her quietly brutal Polish father; the dodd ...more
Paperback, 331 pages
Published August 2nd 2002 by Seal Press
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,116 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Nicole Field
This is the first book I've read from this author. "A gritty coming-of-age, coming out memoir", it told me, on the back of the cover. I'd heard of Michelle Tea before, I was aware that she was a lesbian. But this memoir is less of a "coming out" memoir, and more of a "wandering around the ages of 14 to 18 with a dysfunctional family in Chelsea" memoir.

Unlike many stories of abject poverty in America, this story had nothing to do with people of colour, of with racism. Michelle's mother is marrie
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it
I do love this book but not nearly as much as I had hoped to.

I am a huge fan of her writing style but this particular book didn't seem to have any direction.

It is essentially a collection of memories, not always in chronological order. Some chapters I would find fascinating but they would be a few short pages. Other parts seemed to go on far too long.

I developed a deep connection to her in this book. I just wish there had been a beginning or an end.

This book is more like something she wrote for
Amy P.
Feb 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Although I didn't think I could love a book more than Valencia, Michelle Tea gives us this amazing book! This is the third in a trio and I believe it to be her best. She goes backwards in time in her series and this takes you to her childhood. Her use of imagery is fantastic and I can feel the bleakness of small town life and growing up.
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This hit me a lot stronger than "How to Grow Up." It's got some serious force to it, wonderful grit and some stellar, straightforward lines. It's vivid as anything, and so solid. It's structure is in pieces, but that worked the best for me. Some really good stuff.
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like The Chelsea Whistle more than I actually did. My problem with Valencia is that even though Michelle Tea is an incredibly eloquent and beautiful writer, she tends to ramble, and things don't feel cohesive. I have the same problem here. As in Valencia, we meet new characters all the way up until the end of the book. There are way too many personal stories here, and it's difficult to discern exactly what the plot is until about halfway through the book. By then I'd already lost a l ...more
Arcade Annie
MIchelle Tea is hands down one of my favorite authors, and "The Chelsea Whistle", and was the first novel I ever read by this author. It was also the novel that had me coming back and coming back again to read everything she ever wrote.

I think a lot of us feel like we're still teenagers in many ways, sometimes I do, but I'm also a sucker for a good coming of age story, which is what "The Chelsea Whistle" is, a story of Ms. Tea growing up in a run down suburb of Boston during (mostly) the 80's.
Once again, here is another half-rating; I would truly rate this book 3 1/2. However, if it weren't for the ending, I would have rated it a 4. This memoir was pretty amazing, heart-breaking, and passionate. Michelle Tea has a knack for writing her memories out beautifully. When I first started reading this book, it reminded me of a poetry/prose style and it really hooked me. Tea's writing style and the way she explained things from her childhood not only got you to keep reading but got you to be ...more
Maria Cheevers
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was magic for me given that I grew up in the same neighborhood, at the same time period as the author (actually she is propably about 7 years younger than I). While reading I felt as though we lived parralel lives w/ regard to each and every reference in the book - from birth until I finally left at 30. We lived in the same neighborhood, Catholic School, 'girl' activities (dance and cheering - not much else available), and hang outs (soldiers home and the wall). In fact I know may of t ...more
Oct 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In her disturbing, funny, and often lyrical memoir, Tea effectively captures the ugliness and grit of our shared hometown (two writers from Chelsea, Massachusetts—it’s a miracle!). I’m not sure if an outsider would have the same reaction, but I could see every detail clearly as her prose triggered buried memories of places and a way of life I’ve gladly left behind. The dominant emotion of the memoir is anger, and very understandably, given the backward culture of Chelsea. But then Tea completely ...more
Feb 16, 2011 rated it liked it
The Chelsea Whistle by Michelle Tea is a “gritty, confessional” memoir. Michelle Tea has been an immensely influential writer within the queercore scene, an arts movement that includes music, art, poetry and spoken-word, and literature by newer generations of the GLBT community. This book chronicles her life growing up in the working-class slums of Chelsea, Massachusetts. Not afraid to make her readers uncomfortable, Tea writes of her experiences with drugs, sex, and rebellion unapologetically. ...more
Mar 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: boston/sf people
ahhh! i really like this book - but i really like Michelle Tea in general - i would say she's my favorite author, or definately up there -- this is a memoir about her life growing up in Chelsea, Massachusetts - she is funny and to the point - the thing that i like the most about her is the way that she is able to convey an idea so clearly through a metaphor - she's just one of those authors who i 'get' which is sometimes difficult to come by, but so delicious when it actually happens

when im rea
Daniel Levesque
Dec 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: New Englanders, people who know what Ham Salad is
Recommended to Daniel by: Michelle
I like this one because of The Whistle itself. In Woonsocket, RI, we had the "Seven -OClock Whistle"- a horn that blew every night, to let you know it was 7pm. Just incase.
Michelle and I grew up in such similar environs, we really speak the same language and reference the same things. (At my last show in SF, Michelle was the only person that laughed when I mentioned Willie Whistle. I have the same reaction to her when she writes about ham salad)
This is the Tea book in which I am a character: "W
May 25, 2009 rated it liked it
I have to say, I don't count myself among fans of Michelle Tea's writing in general. I think I have read all of her novels, and while I didn't dislike them, they didn't shake me the way I was somehow expecting. The Chelsea Whistle is also a memoir that reads like a fucked-up YA novel, but this one affected me a little more. Familial dysfunction and a working-class upbringing form the backdrop against which Tea's coming-of-age develops in sad, painful vignettes that seemed all too familiar to me, ...more
Dec 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, not-owned
I feel I need to read all her books then reread them to make sense of the whole story; I'd read some of this material before in The Passionate Mistakes..., Rent Girl, and maybe The Beautiful, but liked this straight-up memoir much better. I really liked the writing here; there are passages I want to read out loud to people. It jumps around a bit and there are many characters and places to keep straight, but I could mostly follow it. I wish a little more was explained (what happened to Kevin? to ...more
THIS WAS SO GOOD. It was also challenging and difficult at many points. As someone with a middle class background there's a fucktonne of what Michelle's spoken about that I can never understand but there were also bits that I related to a lot. That thing where she described the nighttime hallucinations she had as a child was fucking uncanny, I used to have them. There were some things about her domestic situation that resonated with me. I just. That was really good. Really really really good.
Meg Powers
Sep 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
I never met a Michelle Tea memoir I didn't like! Although towards the end of The Chelsea Whistle, certain chapters seem to borrow from previous memoirs. AND she briefly refers to Rhode Island as "boring" (AGH! But what can you expect from a Bostonian?). This book is great, however, especially if you grew up in a dingy and colorless part of New England (which I did, for seven years, anyway), poor and with life coming down hard on you.
Alida Hanson
May 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A coming of age memoir set in 90s (? or is it 80s?) Boston. Michelle Tea describes her childhood and young adult years growing up poor, working class and wild (her word not mine!) in Chelsea, MA. She has a gift for describing the fast paced events, alliances, and tumultuous social and family milestones that come in a torrent during those years. Michelle Tea has written many memoirs and is an important figure in the literary LGBTQ community in San Francisco. Her writing is deft and engrossing.
Nov 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Decent enough book, but the author's style is a bit rambling and jumps around quite a bit without any apparent rhyme or reason. It was an enjoyable memoir, but the end point seemed a bit randomly chosen like Tea just decided, "ok, I'm bored writing about this part of my life. I'll just plunk down this last installment and call it a book." I'm happy I finished reading it, but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it.
Sep 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
It's no small feat to look back on a shitty childhood with an unflinching gaze and manage to find the humor along with the pain. Michelle Tea negotiates the working class minefield of her girlhood with characteristic wit and sharp, sometimes heartbreaking, prose. In exploring the specifics of her Chelsea adolescence, she tells the universal story of what it is to be a girl galloping towards womanhood.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it did not like it
If you like stories about depression, drug use, and irresponsible behavior then this book is for you. I read this book because she claimed to have been raised in the same house as me. I wanted to get a glimpse of my city before I was born. I like hearing about the school that was across the street and it was interesting to find secrets about my home but I didn't like how her memoir felt negative and obscene. I'm also upset she described the house as having a puke green color.
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
I loved this book, as it reminded me of my own childhood, but sometimes I felt like Tea needed help from her editor in defining ***why*** certain moments were so significant to her. There are a few "isn't this weird/f**cked up?" moments that don't move very much beyond the initial shock, but needed to.
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The author & I grew up a few blocks from each-other & a few years apart, then followed overlapping paths to Boston, then SF. Tea remembers more details from my childhood than I do. So I can vouch for authenticity, but I don't think you need to have been there to enjoy this amazing memoir.


PS: I just re-read this. Racier than I remember -- must be getting old.
Sep 21, 2007 rated it liked it
It was kind of long winded so I got through half the book and put it down for like a year. But then when I picked it back up the 2nd half seemed to keep my attention more. There's lots of detail, maybe a little too much sometimes but overall it's a good book. I liked her book "passionate mistakes..." a lot more though.
Robyn Obermeyer
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Anyone who can write a book about their life and remember so much is alright by me!i think I would have liked this person had we have met, but she may not have liked me.....she seems pretty wild and fun and her story was defiantly believable having come from mass myself, nothing close to Chelsae I can still visualize the places she wrote about!
Jan 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Tea's writing style is like nothing else I have read before, and I love that. It took me a while to get into this book - I liked it more as the essays progressed. In the end I loved it, though - as different as her childhood was from my own, she definitely writes about some experiences/feelings/worldviews that ring true with me.
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer, memoir
I really love Michelle Tea's writing style and had held off on reading this book since I wanted to read the first memoir before, but no one ever had it when I thought to buy it, nevermind that I had already read Valencia. I finally just bought it and devoured it. She'll make you laugh out loud on one page and make your heart twinge on the next.
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Deborah
If you're from Boston, you may like this book, a memoir written by a woman who was raised in Chelsea, MA. It was a lot of the Bostonian references that cracked me up. I also discovered that I went to high school with one of the girls in the book (the sister of the author), which made it that much more interesting and eye-opening.
Feb 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
When someone describes the feeling of a big, fat let down in love or life coming on as a, "toilet flushing" inside of them, you can't help but feel it and think that NO ONE has ever put it so perfectly. and no one has.
Jun 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt, 2010
I really enjoyed this memoir which related the author's experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I think I like this type of book because my family was also broken and I can see the similarities.
Amy Crossman
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Kick-ass book! Maybe I love this book so much because I can really identify with Tea, her childhood could have almost been my own, well maybe not exactly, but she really captures the experience of growing up in a shabby Massachusetts town. Her memoir is gritty, bold, and brutally honest.
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Michelle Tea (born Michelle Tomasik) is an American author, poet, and literary arts organizer whose autobiographical works explore queer culture, feminism, race, class, prostitution, and other topics. She is originally from Chelsea, Massachusetts and currently lives in San Francisco. Her books, mostly memoirs, are known for their views into the queercore community. In 2012 Tea partnered with City ...more