Book Review: High School by Tegan and Sara Quin

Listening to High School by Tegan and Sara is like going to high school with Tegan and Sara except I didn’t. They’re 3 years younger than me. When I ‘graduated’ in 1995, they were enjoying their last summer break before starting grade 10, and that’s when their book begins.

Still, listening to them talk about their lives took me back in time. This is why I’ve never attended any of my high school reunions. Those were not good years for many reasons, but listening to this book, I’m definitely feeling nostalgia for the early 90’s that I haven’t until now.

Like Tegan and Sara, I had a phone in my room (attached to a long cord that plugged in the wall) but I shared a phone line with everyone else in the house. I don’t have a sister, so there wasn’t a lot of “Get off the phone!” from my brothers, but I did hear shouts from the basement when I’d pick up and hear the modem. That meant I’d screwed up the internet for whoever was on the computer. That’s why you’re supposed to let everyone know you’re going to be on the computer. If you don’t, that’s on you.

High school was a time for remembering phone numbers for your friends. I still remember one number, but that’s it. I didn’t have a cell phone then. I wasn’t even cool enough to have a pager. I had my notebook (with phone numbers scrawled on the first page) and change for a pay phone. Sometimes I’d call a friend, and the line would be busy. Or no one would pick up. You made plans based on who answered the phone, or the agreement you made when you saw them. Directions were important. So were maps. I had a collection of paper transit routes in my bag.

I didn’t go to the same high school as Tegan and Sara, but I feel like I could have. They went to Crescent Heights. I went to Churchill. When they were going to high school, I lived two blocks away in a dumpy apartment. I’d slip into their school to steal rolls of toilet paper when I’d spent all my money on smokes.

They were ‘alternative.’ Me too. I listened to Hole, Portishead, and Cranes. I had a (fake) nose ring. I had a weird shag haircut which I coloured with Kool-aid. I shopped at Value Village too. I also partied at the Night Gallery (nightclub.) It is very likely that our paths crossed, whether it was at a club, on the bus, or in the dingy basement of a house party. They lived in Monteray Park (in the NE part of town). I did too, for a couple years.

Life in the 1990’s felt different compared to now. Whatever I was doing in that moment was that moment. I wasn’t constantly distracting myself with my phone. I might have been bored in school, writing terrible poetry or staring into space, but I determined the course of that distraction. Most information came to me because I sought it out. The exceptions were commercials on TV or print ads.

High School is a delightful distraction from our incessantly modern life. The audiobook is the best way to go back in time, not only to hear Tegan and Sara narrate their respective accounts, but to hear the early recordings of their music.

This memoir is effectively narrated through the frame of high school. It only ranges from right before grade 10 to right after grade 12. It switches between narrations by Tegan and by Sara, but I never once felt confused between the two.

This is the kind of book that I’d love to play on my tape deck in my Chevy Cavalier driving down the TransCanada on a long road trip. No cell phone. Just a bottle of Diet Coke between my legs and a pack of smokes on the seat. No air-conditioning. Just a window I can roll down (literally.) No screens. Just the view out the windshield of the biggest sky on earth.

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