Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman

15th May 2013

Be Awesome Hadley Freeman

In the downtime between telling us the latest snowflake count/making up puns about horses and the freshly deceased, or indeed, freshly deceased horses/wondering if Ed Balls is Ed Balls is Ed Balls is Ed Balls, the residents of an idyllic corner of Twitter have been stamping their New Affluent Worker feet in impatient anticipation of Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman’s second book, Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies. And it turns out – spoiler alert! – it was worth the wait.

Comparisons to Caitlin Moran are inevitable and, quite frankly, unimaginative, so let’s get them out of the way now. Look! Two funny female broadsheet columnists wrote about feminism and being a lady! In the same decade! How can this be? Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

Pshaw. Be Awesome is no How To Be A Woman knock-off. This collection of essays on topics as diverse as ‘You don’t need Winona Ryder to tell you how to live your life’, ‘How to read women’s magazines without wanting to grow a penis’, and ‘You’re never too old for Topshop’ has its own distinct voice, and a clear goal: to remind us that we are awesome. Shucks.

The book begins, as I think all good books should, with a quote from The Princess Bride – “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

And so the tone of Be Awesome is set: it is henceforth jam-packed with references to films, TV shows, and celebrities – past and present, minor and major – often used to illustrate the flawed depiction of women in popular culture.

Those who don’t know their Lindsay Lohans from their Liz Lemons will still find much to enjoy in Hadley’s book, but it will undoubtedly win more fans among a) women of Hadley’s age, whose childhoods spanned the ‘80s and ‘90s, and b) those who have at least glanced at a tabloid or weekly women’s magazine at some point in the past decade.

The stand-alone essays of Be Awesome were built for dipping in and out of. Some chapters are simply lists; one is written entirely in Daily Mail-ese (the Mail looms large on Hadley’s hitlist); another is in the style of a women’s magazine interview, with a not-insubstantial amount of gliding across the room and waiters fainting dead away.

Hadley’s writing is clever, hugely engaging, and often snortingly funny. Hadley’s writing – as readers of her columns already know – is clever, hugely engaging, and often snortingly funny. In Be Awesome, she strikes a balance between being endearingly silly and fun, and exploring Actual Proper Issues – abortion, eating disorders, body image, the representation of women in the media – with the sort of common sense and clarity that has you nodding along as you read.

Most striking of all Be Awesome’s qualities is its pervading kindness. Sure, Hadley’s undoubtedly top of the sarcasm class, but she writes generously, honestly and unselfconsciously. She’s got your back, that woman. She’s awesome.

Be Awesome was published by 4th Estate earlier this month and is available in paperback from Foyles, Amazon and your local independent bookshop, priced at £12.99. An e-book version is also available, priced at £6.49.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Guardian readers, women, Guardian-reading women. Anyone with an interest in women, in particular our representation in pop culture and the media, and our awesomeness.

Other recommended reading: Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), and yes, predictably, Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman and Moranthology are all great choices if you enjoyed Be Awesome, as indeed is Hadley’s own 10 Awesome Books reading list at the end of her book.

For more Hadley awesomeness, read our recent interview with her.

Laura Brown