Lena Dunham's 'Not That Kind of Girl': What the Critics Are Saying

Not that Kind of Girl Cover - P 2014
Courtesy of Random House

Not that Kind of Girl Cover - P 2014

The New York Times praises, The Wall Street Journal pans, and other reviews

It's "the voice of a generation," from cover to cover — Lena Dunham's highly anticipated memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, hits bookstores Sept. 30 as an advice guide for today's young women, or her update of Helen Gurley Brown's Having It All. (Read an excerpt via The New Yorker, which ran a chapter of Dunham's therapy-related memories earlier this month.)

As one of the buzziest — and priciest — book deals in recent memory, Not That Kind of Girl was optioned by Random House in Oct. 2012 for a reported $3.7 million after a 66-page proposal had begun to circulate through New York publishing circles. In the book's essays, the Girls creator and star waxes poetic on awkward and awful sexual encounters, obsessive-compulsive disorder and regular therapy sessions, among other topics.

Read what top critics are saying about Not That Kind of Girl:

The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani notes, "The sharp observation and distinctive voice she honed in Girls and in her 2010 movie, Tiny Furniture, are translated to the page. ... Confiding, nervy and earnest, she is, by turns, acerbic and vulnerable; self-absorbed and searching; boldly in your face and painfully anxious; a survivor of many of the dating and friendship crises experienced by her Girls characters, though still flummoxed by the mysteries of adulthood. ... Dunham not only writes with observant precision, but also brings a measure of perspective, nostalgia and an older person’s sort of wisdom to her portrait of her (not all that much) younger self and her world. ... By simply telling her own story in all its specificity and sometimes embarrassing detail, she has written a book that’s as acute and heartfelt as it is funny."

Chicago Tribune's Heidi Stevens calls it "revelatory" and "raw" — despite some weak chapters, "the book, as a whole, is a lovely, touching, surprisingly sentimental portrait of a woman who, despite repeatedly baring her body and soul to audiences, remains a bit of an enigma: a young woman who sets the agenda, defies classification and seems utterly at home in her own skin." In fact, "the book's richest moments occur when she pulls the curtain back on her feminist upbringing. ... She reminds us exactly why she's become the face of the modern feminist movement — the body-positive, sex-positive, tell-all brand."

Roxane Gay, reviewing the title for Time, says, "Not That Kind of Girl suffers few missteps. Dunham’s cinematic flair translates to the page with vigor and clarity. ... Instead of tossing pithy, pseudo-motivational observations at the reader, Dunham has crafted warm, intelligent writing that is both deeply personal and engaging." Despite critics' response to the narrow worldview of her show, "thankfully, this essay collection translates far beyond the white, urban demographic of Girls. ... By revealing so much of herself in such an intelligent manner, she allows us to see past that privilege and into her person."

On the other hand, The Washington Post's Rachel Dry writes, "What's most interesting about this collection of personal essays is how carefully constructed her revelations are and what she manages to keep to herself." Though she does boldly reveal many intimate parts of her life, "by the end of the book, it seemed that the most intimate thing Dunham could actually talk about is her own ambition."

The Wall Street Journal's Jessica Kasmer-Jacobs also took issue with the work, writing, "What surprised me most about Ms. Dunham's memoir is that one of the funniest voices of my generation has written a book that isn't very funny." What works for Girls doesn't necessarily work for Dunham, who "is not really Hannah Horvath, struggling writer and erstwhile barista. She is sought after, well-off and by now quite famous."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

Sept. 27, 7:39 p.m. Updated with The Wall Street Journal review.