A memoir of how two sisters survived and thrived, overcoming the typical difficulties of being a teenager.
Identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin have been recording together for more than 20 years, signing their first contract as they finished high school in Calgary. The indie pop artists are best known among LBGTQ audiences, and their recently published book High School tells the stories of both women coming out and coming into their own as musicians. This is not an apologetic story of remorseful child stars; rather, it is a memoir of how two sisters survived and thrived, overcoming the typical difficulties of being a teenager.
High School is arranged chronologically with alternating chapters authored by each of the sisters. The book begins with a brief meditation from both Tegan and Sara about the phenomenon of being identical twins. The bond between them is part of each woman’s sense of self and is fundamental to how they depict their experiences of growing up together. That their classmates have trouble telling them apart is a simple sign of how deeply they are connected. When Sara tells their friend Kayla that another classmate, Felix, put gum in Tegan’s hair, Kayla shows up in Tegan’s homeroom to tell Felix that Tegan is one of her best friends. Kayla’s popularity and influence are significant, giving Felix a sense that he should be kinder. Tegan realizes that in sharing this information with Kayla, Sara is not just protecting her, she is also protecting herself. She is doubly grateful. Tegan reflecting on this incident is significant in part because it stands in contrast to the often vicious, always dramatic arguments between the sisters.
The book is rich with the stories of adolescence: sibling rivalry, tension with parents, self-consciousness, high school crushes, music and a variety of drugs. Tegan and Sara recount their adventures drinking, getting high and dropping acid, not solely for the sake of recalling their wild teenage adventures but also to reflect on the friendships they still value. The details that hang in the balance are seemingly insignificant but memorable: Tegan, stoned, buttering toast in the kitchen when her mother unexpectedly comes home early, and she wonders just how long she has been buttering toast, trying to pretend that she’s not high.
Family discord is a common theme throughout the book, yet along with the arguments and antics is recognition of the importance of family in creating one’s sense of self. During grade eleven, Tegan and Sara join their mother and stepfather Bruce on a trip to spend Christmas with their extended family in Georgia. Leading up to Christmas Eve, the women in the family go shopping, and Bruce later admits that while they were at the mall, the men went to Hooters for lunch. An argument erupts, divided along gender lines. Looking back, Tegan notes that the women in her family taught her to speak up about the things that are important to her. This is not to say that the women in the family always stand with her. After Christmas, the twins, their aunt, and their 12-year-old cousin Sloane go to a trendy store in Atlanta. At family dinner that night, Sloane mentions that she saw two girls kissing while Tegan and Sara were trying on sweaters. Uncle Marty is livid and blames Aunt Vivienne for not “protecting” their daughter. In response, Tegan loses her temper, noting that the only person who seems open-minded is Sloane.
Incidents like this reinforce for both Sara and Tegan that their sexuality is a site of trouble and controversy. Throughout High School, both struggle with the sense that being gay is socially unacceptable, and there are certainly many times that the disapproval they fear also becomes part of their experience. Stories of first crushes and first loves are well developed, although the extensive cast of characters can sometimes make it difficult to remember the narrative threads that tie together a large group of friends.
The book is also the story of how the twins became songwriters and musicians. The transformative incident happens in grade ten when Tegan and Sara were rooting around in the storage space reserved for Bruce, who maintained a cardinal rule to never mess with his stuff. They are shocked to find his guitar, since they had never heard him play and didn’t know that he owned any musical instruments. Gently, they take out the guitar and try to play it, a habit that both Tegan and Sara maintain, although they hide this secret from each other. From there, the angst and frustration that covers the pages of their journals gets funneled into their first songs. As each writes her own chapters in High School, the reader sees how their solo preoccupations evolve into their first collaborations.
The intent for readers to possibly see their own experience reflected in Tegan and Sara’s stories is made clear by the release of their ninth album, titled Hey, I’m Just Like You, to coincide with the release of the book. Whether through sexuality, music or simply surviving adolescence, finding stories similar to your own is highly likely in reading High School. The takeaway is what Tegan and Sara were both looking for in high school, a sense of knowing that you are not alone.