Book Review: High School by Tegan and Sara Quin

April 28, 2020

High School, Tegan & Sara Quin
Virago, 2019

Life-writing | LGBTQIA+

Whilst hungrily reading High School, I was frequently compelled to clutch this book to my heart and declare 'I love this book so much' out loud. High School is the collective memoir of Canadian musicians and twin sisters Sara Quin and Tegan Quin that follows the development of their music, identities and sexuality through their high school years.

Admittedly, I am a fan of Tegan and Sara's music which I find to be poetic, emotional and accomplished and so I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about their personalities and was particularly invested in their early musical journey. However, the memoir can absolutely be enjoyed by those not familiar with Tegan and Sara's music, though I think the story about the discovery of their musical talent seemed sweeter as a fan, though this story is heartwarming and encouraging for all those who have ever had a dream or passion.

The memoir alternates between Tegan and Sara's chapters. The format of the book prompts the reader as to who's speaking with names printed at the top of the page and by never breaking the alternating chapter pattern. As the memoir develops and we learn more about each author, it becomes easier to recognise who's speaking based on their personalities and stories.

Though Tegan and Sara are twin sisters and band-mates, High School is very much a memoir about two individuals. We discover that Tegan and Sara fight regularly and the myth that twins are freakishly connected is dispelled. Sara tells us that the whole 'twin-mind-reading nonsense always bothered me.' I became equally invested in the individual trials, angst and high school dramas of each author, without ever finding the stories to be clichéd or eye-rolling. The overlap in the experiences and environment of the two sisters make their individual stories and chapters perfectly cohesive. The book is well-written, with the right balance of literariness and readability.

High School speaks to queer experience as each author narrates the formation of their lesbian identity. But High School is not solely a coming out memoir. Rather than focusing on a coming out narrative, Tegan and Sara's sexualities are interwoven with stories about familial and friend relationships and a larger exploration of identity-formation and finding one's place. The book uncovers the turmoil experienced by these two lesbian teenagers and it's insightful to read two different experiences of coming out alongside each other. Their sense of loneliness and anxiety is exacerbated as we learn that both sisters are grappling with their homosexuality yet they don't confide in each other. The book also includes frank representations of homophobia within family and community - even the twins' loving stepfather makes homophobic comments - exposing the complexities of prejudice when it's expressed by those we love.

High School is a classic memoir; it focuses on a specific time period and straightforwardly narrates the authors' past experiences. Tegan and Sara disclose their past selves without judgement, hindsight or analysis from a present-day authorial voice. They expose their "bad" behaviour, rule-breaking and even negative thoughts towards each other without an apologetic or confessional tone: a tone that is often found in the memoir genre. The memoir is instead tender and it feels like a collective vindication for all of us who have felt shame or regret towards our younger selves. It's this tenderness that make this memoir truly heartwarming, even as it explores negative experiences and emotions, and this book will remain metaphorically, if not physically, clutched to my heart.


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  1. Ah, this book sounds beautiful! I love Tegan and Sara's music too (I got to see them live at Splendour In The Grass a few years ago, and it moved me to tears), and it sounds like they've managed the transition from music to memoir with grace and aplomb, as you'd expect. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I'll be keeping an eye out for this one!