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May 16th, 2007 Claire Evans | Books
 

How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love letter To The Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time

Two writers pen a mash note to the mag that made them the women they are now.

     
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Sassy was a rare breed of teen magazine. Albeit glossy and often gushy about "cute bands," it broke the mold by speaking candidly about issues verboten in mid-'90s magazine media: drugs, sexuality and the vapidity of Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, for example. It splashed its covers with alternative visionaries like Kurt & Courtney, called D.C. punker Ian Svenonius the "Sassiest Boy in America," and even had a regular "Zine Corner," featuring the best of the DIY, black-and-white rags. Fighting both the status quo and the latent sexism of the magazine industry, Sassy was a beacon of light for frustrated teen girls everywhere, setting the stage for a whole new wave of coy, young feminism to take root in its wake.

Obviously, it didn't last very long.

Thankfully, for those of us who might have missed Sassy's halcyon days (1988-1996)—or who simply miss them—a pair of New York writers have reconstituted the whole sordid affair, from its breathless beginnings and crowning achievement, to the industry cattiness and bottom line that brought the little empire of adolescent pluck tumbling down. Although the account is punctilious, none of the juicy nitty-gritties are left out—the book features former staffers talking frankly about early Sassy protégés like it-girl Chloë Sevigny ("She wore really big hats," one contributor recalls) and closely parsed examinations of the ongoing tensions between editrix Jane Pratt (who went on to found Jane magazine in 1997) and her fiery underlings.

How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time (Faber & Faber, 144 pages, $18) is just that, a "love story"; its co-authors, freelance writers Marisa Meltzer and Kara Jesella, who both came of age under the spell of the prom-eschewing publication (and, like many women, credit their careers to the no-bullshit feminist politics of Sassy), fawn unabashedly throughout their meticulously tight, readable history of the magazine's rise and fall. By the end, the pair almost has you believing Sassy was responsible for everything from the explosion of '90s indie culture into the mainstream to the career of filmmaker Spike Jonze.

Of course, the very idea of Sassy—and of this often-funny, charming history—was to give teenage girls the respect they deserve by empowering them with safe tools of dissent, so it's only natural that a book like this one, penned by its subject's former readers, might breeze into existence so many years after the magazine's demise.


Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer read from How Sassy Changed My Life at Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. 7:30 pm Monday, May 21. Free.
 
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