My Perfect Life
“Barry has created characters that stick with the reader long after the last page is turned. By being deeply personal and ruthlessly honest, she makes Maybonne feel like someone we really know, someone who truly has a perfect life.”
Originally published in 1992 by Harper, Lynda Barry’s My Perfect Life has just been reissued by Drawn and Quarterly. It’s impressive how fresh and relatable the writing still feels. Teenage angst, it seems, hasn’t changed much over the decades, at least not when someone as talented as Barry is telling the story. The cover promises that the life inside is “Deep, tragic, beautiful, truthful, freaked out, blown away.” All of those adjectives are not only apt, they cover the full gamut of emotions that Maybonne, the narrator, expresses.
The book starts off with “This Year” and a description of Maybonne’s teachers, all of whom could easily be in the classroom today:
“First Period: Miss Fortner. History. Looks like she has an eternal headache. Has on an ugly wig. Her motto, ‘If you want to be a clown, join the circus.’”
From there the reader joins Maybonne in the social and emotional ups and downs with friends, crushes, rumors, boyfriends, family drama—all the things that go into her beautiful life. The raw honesty that appealed in the 1990s is just as effective now. Maybonne isn’t struggling with social justice, climate change, social media, but her concerns are vivid and real. Her optimism in the midst of all the angst is searingly wonderful:
“Walking to school this morning I worshipped all things. You might say that’s warped! Did I just forget about pollution, prejudice, and how there’s people in a war???????????
Excuse me but I know that! Can I help it if right this second I get something incredible? I can’t hardly explain it. Everything looks like it’s starring in a movie of gorgeous details.
Don’t barf, but I am so thankful I got born.”
Plenty of depression follows this moment of rosy clarity. Maybonne is a teenager after all. Which means she’s highly self-critical, trying to figure out her problems and what makes some things so tough for her. When one of her friends diagnoses her with an inferiority complex, the doom is complete:
“She warned me that if I didn’t cure my inferiority complex I would lose all my friends and also David as my boyfriend. ‘It’s your whole problem.’ She said, ‘Your personality.’”
The story, however, is not “a downer,” as Maybonne’s little sister Marlys would say. Instead the book ends on thoughts of the next school year and the possibilities it brings. Maybonne can make changes, she can take charge of her life. Whatever happens, Barry has created characters that stick with the reader long after the last page is turned. By being deeply personal and ruthlessly honest, she makes Maybonne feel like someone we really know, someone who truly has a perfect life.