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Myriam Gurba's debut is the bold and hilarious tale of her coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Mean turns what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, funny, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.

We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would cut off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being mean to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being mean is more exhilarating.

Being mean isn't for everybody.

Being mean is best practiced by those who understand it as an art form.

These virtuosos live closer to the divine than the rest of humanity. They're queers.

Myriam Gurba is a queer spoken-word performer, visual artist, and writer from Santa Maria, California. She's the author of Dahlia Season (2007, Manic D) which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, Wish You Were Me (2011, Future Tense Books), and Painting Their Portraits in Winter (2015, Manic D). She has toured with Sister Spit and her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. She lives in Long Beach, where she teaches social studies to eighth-graders.

175 pages, Paperback

First published November 7, 2017

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About the author

Myriam Gurba

11 books706 followers
I'm a queer Chicana feminist and writer.

Sometimes I come on this site to read the insanely irresponsible shit people say about books.

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5 stars
1,560 (47%)
4 stars
1,191 (36%)
3 stars
392 (11%)
2 stars
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47 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 444 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah.
591 reviews1,052 followers
November 23, 2018
This was absolutely stunning. The only reason this was not quite a five star read for me was because it took me about 60 pages to find my rhythm with this book (and the book is not particularly long). But once I did, it was beyond incredible. Myriam Gurba has a way of structuring her thoughts, of coming at her point from different angles that I found particularly brilliant. And I might still change my rating. This memoir will for sure stay with me and I can already see it featuring on my best of the year list (which is still a long way off).

Myriam Gurba’s tone is abrasive and funny; like my favourite essayists she is unapologetically honest and herself and, yes, sometimes mean. She puts herself at the centre of her art and I adore that (nothing new here). Her art is clever and intellectual without losing an emotional heart, the whole book being intricately structured (not unlike a dance) while still packing a punch you would not believe. The last half builds like crescendo and when I realized what she was leading up to, I was knocked aside – her way of reaching her points from different angles really took me unawares here. The reaction I had cannot be overstated.

I cannot recommend this highly enough: if you like memoirs, if you like voices that are unique, if you like to be viscerally moved, if you like good books. This is brilliant. Myriam Gurba is brilliant.

PS: I have updated my rating because the book has stayed with me and is one of the best memoirs I read this year; and I read a lot.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,795 reviews2,340 followers
January 30, 2020
It's OK to be mean.

It isn't just greed that's good. Mean is good too. Being mean makes us feel alive. It's fun and exciting. Sometimes it keeps us alive.

Well, thank heaven for this year's Big Book Brouhaha, or I might never have heard of this author!


It may seem mean, but I'm gonna say it anyway - I never had any interest in reading the other book. When I first saw it listed as a Goodreads giveaway, I read the description, then scrolled on past, dismissing it as yet another "Ladies' Book Club Book" - a book featuring burning social issues, ripe for tsking and clucking over by middle-aged white ladies while they munch expensive chocolate cake covered with decadent ganache that was purchased at that chic new gluten-free bake shop downtown. And, no, I don't mean to insult anyone who LOVED that book, and I belong to a book club, and, yep, I've eaten that cake. But, I know what I like . . . and I know I won't feel guilty for giving that one a miss.

This book, on the other hand, is MY KINDA THING. My gal, Myriam, is the REAL DEAL, and this is her story of growing up a Molack (Mexican Polack). She offers deliciously honest, and occasionally snarky observations on pretty much everything, and her use of the C-word (and, I don't mean Cancer!) will probably keep this memoir from being book club fodder. (Though if you know of any clubs that pick this title, dammit - I want to join!)

By eighth grade, being called a ho was water off my wet back. I was a paradoxical ho, though, a bookworm ho with a fading Mexican complexion. Young people of color are supposed to enjoy looting and eating trans fats, not sustained silent reading, but I found a way to reconcile my assigned stereotype with my passions. I microwaved nachos and ate them while reading Jackie Collins paperbacks I stole from my mother --- trans fats, looting, and literature.


Be warned - Myriam discusses bodily functions, sexual assault, and her love of reading with equal candor, AND, you're probably not going to agree with her on every issue. She can also be a little mean. (See title.) This one made me both cringe, and laugh out loud, and for me - that's the BEST kind of book.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
February 10, 2019
A caustic coming-of-age tale, Mean charts the author’s journey toward feminist consciousness as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. In terse prose, spoken-word performer Myriam Gurba recollects dozens of disparate memories of her childhood and adolescence in the Southwest over the course of sixty-one fast-moving chapters. Common themes link standalone vignettes: the author’s development as a writer and artist, her family’s effort to preserve their heritage, the (sexual) abuse of the Mexican-American female body, the political power of meanness. Interestingly, Gurba subverts several conventions of the white queer coming-of-age narrative, from glossing over the details of her coming out to rarely describing her romantic relationships. The author seems less interested in sketching a movement toward self-acceptance and happiness than in detailing the social uses of solidarity and anger. Well worth checking out.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,460 reviews8,565 followers
June 23, 2019
An intelligent, darkly humorous, and irreverent memoir about growing up as a queer mixed-race Chicana. I always find it difficult for books to make me laugh but I laughed out loud several times reading Mean. Myriam Gurba’s distinct voice reflects both her ability to form sharp observations about the people and situations around her as well as her capacity to know herself, so that she can elicit laughter even when discussing topics like sexual assault, eating disorders, and racism. In sixty-one short, fast-moving chapters, Gurba details the emotions of growing up as a girl of color, her burgeoning love of art and her developing feminist consciousness. She imbues her coming of age narrative with brilliant, piercing social justice-related observations, like how she had to apologize when white girls acted racist toward her and her friends, or how a doctor did not believe her sister had anorexia because the doctor had racist ideas that Mexican people could not get anorexia, or the objectification and brutalization of the Mexican American female body by boys and men. By the end of the memoir I wanted just a little more introspection, a little more clarity about the importance of meanness and her healing process. At the same time, I loved how Gurba wrote directly about preserving her dignity and setting clear boundaries around how much she wanted to disclose about her life. Overall, a fantastic memoir that details Gurba’s trauma, her wit, and how she wields her voice and her art to make sense of all that has happened to her.

I also wanted to share some brief quotes I found super funny, lol.

On when she told a boy he had to climb a high obstacle to join her club as a kid: ”I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an insurmountable initiation. Like the literacy tests given to black folks in the American South before the Voting Rights Act passed. I was an early on-set feminist.”

On the stereotypes she encountered as a young person of color: ”By eighth grade, being called a ho was water off of my wet back. I was a paradoxical ho, though, a bookworm ho with a fading Mexican complexion. Young people of color are supposed to enjoy looting and eating trans fats, not sustained silent reading, but I found a way to reconcile my assigned stereotype with my passions. I microwaved nachos and ate them while reading Jackie Collins paperbacks I stole from my mother – trans fats, looting, and literature.”

On encountering a white girl when Gurba and father tried to find parking on college move-in day: ”The white girl looked at something beyond us, at something we couldn’t see. Maybe the white privilege fairy. She was steadfast in her colonization.”
Profile Image for julieta.
1,140 reviews19.4k followers
February 18, 2021
Wow! I started reading this book without much idea about what it was about. It's beautiful, strong, sad. I love the fact that it's a memoir, but it doesn't feel like it's about just one person, it's a story you can connect with yourself. I think all stories get connected, and Myriam Gurba is a voice to connect and read. The way words slowly reveal what she has to say, the way she moves poetically even through violence being done on women, on her, trauma, history, race. I think even if I have not been through the things she goes through, I think we can all understand and connect in the fear that we have at all times, being women. Here's to more stories and books like this one! I loved it.
Profile Image for Beverly.
806 reviews291 followers
February 22, 2020
I classified this memoir under fierce, feminist fables and it is, but it is also wise and funny and written by someone who loves language. Myriam Gurba twists and turns and spirals English and Spanish into her own interior language which is a really cool gift.

She was a funny kid with really great parents and twin pack of a brother and sister. Her life is blessed with wonderful things, parents who are educated and loving, who want their children to be happy. Myriam had tough girl friends, who were loyal and mean, but not to each other, only to those who deserved it. She also had terrible things happen.

The memoir starts with the death of a young woman, raped and bludgeoned to death by a man, destroying her face. We don't know why this story impacts Myriam so much until near the end.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sara.
315 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2018
Gurba opens her memoir (?) with a horrific vignette of a woman being beaten to death and raped. This is her jumping off point to prove to us that her meanness is borne of political need as a woman of color. And, okay, some of my feelings about all this are clearly my own thing--I'm sensitive and don't like meanness, which perhaps comes out of my white privilege as Gurba suggests, but also I did something I shouldn't have done as a reader--I Googled Gurba. This shouldn't really figure into my reading of this book, but, well, too late. Here's the thing: She's insanely gorgeous. So when she's here being her mean self, being critical of art girls who don't brush their hair or remarking to herself that some girl she is in school with should stop bleaching her beard because it's not working, well, all this just felt too much like the catty, terrible, beautiful, and popular girls from high school who were...well...mean to me. So, while a lot of this book was engaging and even right on, I had a hard time getting past my dislike of the narrator.
Profile Image for Lisa Eirene.
1,389 reviews8 followers
January 9, 2018
I'm unsure of how I feel about this book.

First, I liked the writing style. It was poetic and stream of consciousness-esque, there was some really powerful and beautiful writing in there.

Second, I think the memoir takes on a lot of important topics--racism, culture, sexual assault, harassment, GLBT issues, anorexia, family, recovery and death.

"The privilege of surviving doesn't feel good. It makes me feel guilty."

But the reason I feel so torn about this book is that I did not like the author's voice at all. She came across as pretentious and condescending and too "mean-girl". I GET the feminist rage. I get that she's angry. I get that she wanted to write about her difficult life experiences -- life changing experiences -- but she just came across as a snotty, snobby, privileged Berkeley chick who just happens to be Latina and gay. Her voice throughout the book is just very off-putting to me. Which is disappointing because it could have been such a good, important book!
Profile Image for PS.
137 reviews15 followers
June 25, 2018
3.5 stars

Such mixed feelings. The writing’s gorgeous in places; she tackles important themes such as sexual violence, race, identity, eating disorders. This book is going to haunt me for a while.

At the same time, Gurba comes across as arrogant and nasty towards other women. Too many women are labelled ‘bitches’ and criticised. I will finish this one but I’m tired. I’m tired of women talking about how badly women are treated by society while they put down other women. Enough.
Profile Image for l.
1,669 reviews
February 10, 2018
I have issues with Gurba. Primarily with how she is flippant about traumas that are not her own. This memoir is still worth reading though. I'll be thinking about it for some time.
Profile Image for Laura.
555 reviews28 followers
April 4, 2020
So I was all ready to give this book a 3, but then, the author launches into a bizarre defense of Michael Jackson after having spent most of the book detailing the various sexual assaults that she suffered as a child and young adult, and I just couldn't understand it.

The rest of the book is... okay. It's "edgy" and very "in your face" and trying very hard to be provocative and controversial. I actually found a lot of Gurba's writing to be quite original and interesting, but then she'd veer too far and some of her jokes fell off into a no-go zone. I also found her analysis of her early life to be a bit flat. I'm tired of generalizations of race without any nuance regardless of the race of the writer. I wish there had been insight into the author's parents and siblings - for a book that serves essentially as a memoir, there was a striking lack of words devoted to the people that Gurba lived with for the first 18 years of her life. I really didn't care what courses she took in college. I keep thinking instead about how her father would call her mom, herself and her sister "bitches." And this self-proclaimed mean girl didn't slash his tires or his face? There's something there to write about.

It seems like the more I think about this book, the less I like it. I know it's so not cool to say that, because this is a very cool book written by a very cool queer Latina writer. The first half of the book was good and bold albeit graphic and intense at times. The second half, though, felt disorganized and rambling even though it contained the event that seemed to embody the whole point of writing this book.
Profile Image for Mel.
696 reviews38 followers
April 23, 2019
I don’t think I’ve ever been so uncomfortable, enraged, and yet so enthused and sometimes giggly at a memoir as dark as this one. Written in an often poetic style in fits and bursts of brutality and nostalgia— this book is going to make you FEEL. Gurba’s journey is a little too familiar but that’s what makes her story an important one to hear & remember. Her cheeky style will stay with me.

~TW: Rape/Assault~
Profile Image for Charlotte.
380 reviews100 followers
September 1, 2021
“Art is one way to work out touch gone wrong.” - This seems to be exactly what Myriam Gurba has done by writing MEAN. It is her way of working through her experience of sexual assault, homophobia, and racism while coming-of-age as a queer and mixed-race women in the 90s. The prose is a mix of more lyrical thought spirals and krass statements but intermixed with so many poignant observations about life that I just had to write down in my journal to remember. A large part of the book deals with Gurba’s second experience of sexual assault. “By denying certain events a place in the historical record, there is a certain denial of truth. With that denial comes dignity. Belief in one’s basic dignity is like makeup. It helps. It helps you leave the house. It protects [...] your real-face against judgements.” But then news of the death of Sophia Torres come to light and that Gurba’s assailant is responsible for the crime. Sophia’s ghost confronts Gurba and forces her to work through her past and her feelings as she notes: “It’s not fair that I’ve had so much privilege. And by privilege I mean life. The privilege of surviving doesn’t feel good. It makes me feel guilty.” MEAN is a unique and thought-provoking memoir that will linger.
Profile Image for Casey the Reader.
257 reviews68 followers
February 22, 2020
MEAN is author Myriam Gurba's memoir about coming of age as a mixed race queer Chicana. She looks back at her childhood and teen years through the lens of the repeated assaults on her body she endured. It's a look at the life of a girl drowning in misogyny.

This book is incredible. Gurba's writing is next-level. Her words hold multiple meanings and call back to each other throughout the book. Layer that with her biting, black humor and MEAN is a sharp punch to the gut.

Her memories feel jumbled and yet the story unspools at a carefully determined pace. It's that way women decide whether we can only trust you with a joke about harassment we endured or with the full horror of our traumas. With this book, Gurba is trusting her readers with everything.
Profile Image for Megan.
Author 16 books451 followers
March 1, 2019
I reviewed this recently for 4Columns -- here's an excerpt:
"“Being mean makes us feel alive,” Myriam Gurba writes in her new book, the memoir Mean. “It’s fun and exciting. Sometimes, it keeps us alive.” Rooted in her experience growing up a queer mixed-race Chicana in a world structured by whiteness, straightness, and misogyny, Gurba’s particular meanness is confrontational, deliberate, and very, very funny. She goes for the throat, then bats the reader playfully on the head."

More here! http://4columns.org/milks-m/mean

Recently reread this for my Funny or Not course on comedy and was floored once again. Gave us a LOT to talk about related to permissibility, aesthetics, the discomfort and value of finding/making comedy in horror.
Profile Image for Monica.
592 reviews622 followers
October 1, 2022
I've been reading a lot of memoirs lately noting the story and the style. This was a well crafted and very clever story. It had it's moments of humor but the artistry behind the way that she told the story was really good. Gurba is a poet and it shows. She tells the story of her middle class upbringing in her ethnically blended family in Los Angeles amid a horrific event. Gurba has a solid and happy family and her upbringing seems mostly familiar to to this middleclass black woman with obvious differences in culture and ethnicity. I was amused by Gurba's take on her elementary school friend's mother:
"The white mom’s face exuded Puritanism. Margarine. Thrift. The absence of fun."
She also pokes at the patriarchy:
"He talked. He was a talker. I sized him up as I let him prattle. Men like it if you let them talk. It makes them feel like teachers. That’s all many men really want. To be womankind’s teacher."
What is most interesting is the lens in which Gurba allows us to view her life. The things that pass as ordinary or casual through the storytelling, for me were absolutely not . Yet, I don't consider my life to be a baseline for ordinary so YMMV. After a while, elements of one's culture start to dictate how we view ourselves.
"Their stories are fed to Catholic girls as exemplars of good girlhood. Good girlishness resists gluttony. Good girlishness resists pleasure. Good girls prove their virtue by getting rid of themselves."
There were many surreal elements and sometimes it was hard to discern what was in her mind versus what was happening. Like a coping mechanism in the mind of a young teen.
"Guilt is a ghost. Guilt is a ghost. Guilt is a ghost."
I believe that to be by design which is one of the elements that makes this story so remarkable. I think Gurba's story is a perspective that should be heard. It is one that resonates. Trigger warnings: *Note: I don't want to give the impression that this book was all about traumatic events. It is not. It was some very clever commentary on ethnicity and culture in America. It was also fascinating, a little offbeat (in a good way), speckled with humor and engaging. That speaks to the artistry. Gurba has skillz and leaves a mark!!

4+ Stars

Read on kindle
Profile Image for Nicola.
Author 6 books497 followers
February 4, 2020
I've seen this book on the Coffee House Press website a handful of times, but it wasn't until I read Gurba's review of American Dirt that I really got a sense of who she is. I figured it was a good time to check it out.

Gurba writes with verve. You get an idea of her sensibilities quickly. Her language lives on the page. In fact, the memoir begins in her childhood as she describes growing up with one language (in fact a household speaking English and Spanish) before realising that the world divides these things up. Words and senses are alive, pliable, and in concert as you read. Her perspective is strong, I could picture the world through her eyes as she described friends, homes, school days, dorm rooms, and eventually darker subjects. It's humorous until it isn't. I liked the different levels of experience you get here – from moments to days to impressions of entire semesters. There are things she wrestles with directly and others that are disguised or concealed. Then the reveal of the connections between seemingly disparate parts of her story made me queasy.

A commanding book. I won't forget it in a hurry.
Profile Image for Miriam Kumaradoss-Hohauser.
163 reviews4 followers
January 12, 2018
Can I give this six stars? I want to. Nah, I need to - just a few pages in, I knew I'd found my queer intersectional feminist manifesto. Mean is whip-smart, hard-hitting, wildly fun. and totally punk. Thanks for being a fucking rock star, Myriam.

I would write a proper review, but all I really want to say is read it. It's important.
Profile Image for Kevin.
Author 33 books35.4k followers
February 11, 2018
A wild, sometimes messy sandwich of a book. Almost like if Kathy Acker tried to write a true crime book. The beginning and end focus intensely on rape and trauma and the middle is more of a scattershot memoir with a lot of weird comedic relief weaved in. Only Myriam could get away with such an audacious creation. She's one of a kind, thank God.
Profile Image for Jan.
1,072 reviews29 followers
March 26, 2020
With wicked wit and wordplay, Gurba crafts a coming-of-age memoir that details her Mexican-American childhood and the aftermath of a sexual assault. As she proved with her takedown of American Dirt, Gurba’s is a voice to be reckoned with.
Profile Image for Samantha.
Author 11 books58 followers
February 24, 2020
I very coincidentally grabbed this at the library just before Gurba's review of American Dirt went viral. Her coming-of-age memoir about queerness, mixed race identity, and assault is so very much the perfect amount of mean and funny to talk back at the many oppressions of white hetero-patriarchy. Tone is important and could honestly be a whole character in this book, as women's anger (especially WOC's anger) is constantly under attack.

Y'all, read this book and support this author. She has suffered pushback and the loss of her job after publishing her AD review and deserves way more support for her work than a white lady getting seven figures for an immigrant novel.
Profile Image for Bryn Greenwood.
Author 5 books3,938 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
February 18, 2020
The first essay in this collection describes an extremely graphic & violent rape. I just don’t currently have the emotional capacity to continue.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Elise Karlsson.
Author 9 books32 followers
December 26, 2017
"German Jewish toker, hiker and intellectual Walter Benjamin wrote an essay titled 'Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting.' In it, he describes his musty zeal, intoning that 'every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories.' The chaos of memories. The chaos of mammaries. The chaos that comes after being touched. The chaos of penetration. The chaos of breath. The chaos caused by quiet ghosts. The haunting."
Profile Image for Sylvia.
Author 16 books231 followers
March 28, 2018
I absolutely loved this book. This is an edgy lyrical memoir in which Gurba unfolds what it is to grow up as a Molack (mexican and polack) and become a queer feminist artist who is chased by ghosts (public and personal) (nice and mean). Written in short vignettes this is as much a coming of age as it is a solid essay about womanhood, culture, art, heritage, individuality.

A wonderful-whimsical writer that plays with language, form, and meanness.
Profile Image for John Dishwasher John Dishwasher.
Author 2 books44 followers
October 24, 2021
The world is mean. Violence is everywhere. In doughnuts and bouquets of flowers, even. Inescapable. We are all bathed in violence. Gurba puts the responsibility for this on society mostly, but without excusing any of us individuals who make up society, herself included. This is a disquieting and compelling read. Sometimes I felt like a voyeur, which made me feel like a monster, which Gurba shows in this memoir we all are. And then there is the guilt for both being the monster and for surviving the monster. No way out. No one wins.

The book is defiantly confessional. It feels like she is testing the boundaries of how honest she can be with herself. Watching such wrestlings with barbaric truths always rivet me. Her language is savory and agile in a way that makes moving from sentence to sentence an adventure. Lots of associative remarks which occasionally verge on puns but always convey too much meaning to be called only that. And I laughed plenty too. It’s got fun.

The way she sets up her climax, even beginning from page one, positions and tenderizes the reader to process its brutality with as much gravity as can be imparted from the written word, I believe. This book is a primal lesson that will touch the viscera of any humane person. And it completely succeeds because of its poetic, eloquent design and intimate delivery. An unusually important read.
Profile Image for Caitlin Theroux.
Author 2 books24 followers
February 22, 2021
I was kept engaged until she used my illness as a fun little verb.

You “Touretted” something? Oh, what a cute way to say “blurted out.” No, you’re right, using a debilitating condition that is always layered with other shit pies is the way to go here. Absolutely.

If you’re going to stand up for marginalized communities, maybe think of the rest of us out here fighting too.
Profile Image for ellis.
524 reviews6 followers
July 10, 2018
3.5 stars. a bit too brutal for me, and not what i had expected, but the subject matter matters to me.

book is about about sexual assault, rape, problems the author faced as a young mexican lesbian, and more. extremely lyrical prose and themed chapters made this an unconventional autobiography.
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