Released in the autumn of 2019, Tegan and Sara Quin's memoir mainly covers the space between Grade Ten and their first successes in the music industry. We see some of their earlier life, but mostly to provide context. Although they are very different people who frequently do not get along, their identities cannot be separated from the fact of being born monozygotic twins. Sara claims no clear visual memory of Tegan prior to the age of four:
...the snapshots of my mind contain no trace of her. What I can summon is the feeling of her. As if she existed everywhere, and in everything.
When they are separated at four for the first time in their lives, she writes,
I lay on her grandmother's living room couch with a fever. Opposite me, I registered the empty space.
Without Tegan, I had become me. And it was awful.
Tegan's experience is even stranger. She recalls a similar early incident. When she recounts it years later to her parents, they assure her she has the memory wrong. She is remembering the event as it happened to her sister. Despite finding aspects of their lives disturbing, she also finds "great comfort that comes from traveling through life with a witness, and identical twin" who "corroborates" her "version of things."
Growing up in conservative Calgary in the 1990s, the sisters listen to punk, worship Nirvana, attend raves and, for a time, take drugs and go to parties. These excursions do not consistently end well. Cautiously and, at first, secretly, they begin dating girls and writing songs. A few times High School verges on becoming an especially edgy after-school special, but it has been written with considerable skill and remarkable candidness. Few celebrity memoirs manage to be so literate and literary.
The book alternates between chapters written by each sister. Their relationship is not an easy one. While they can be each other's best friend, they frequently fight and treat each other with either indifference or hostility. The stressful times seem fuelled at times by a kind of jealousy, growing more intense when one of them is in any kind of relationship that excludes the other. Much of the girls' adolescence makes for uncomfortable reading. I found myself recalling a friend who said that raising teenagers is like watching someone fall down the stairs.
One exception to their narration is the transcript of a recording made by a friend for a school project, in which students discuss their views on "homosexuality." It provides a refreshing change of perspective. Tegan and Sara are in synch, expressing serious teen opinions, and joking comfortably about topics they have not yet discussed openly.
As closeted lesbians, they often confront negative attitudes. During one Christmas vacation they visit relatives in Atlanta and go shopping with a 12-year-old cousin. At a hip clothing store they see a girl with pink hair, kissing another girl. The cousin's account shocks her father:
"Vivienne, what kind of place did you take our 12-year-old to today?"
"It was just a clothing store, Marty," Mom said, annoyed now.
"Stay out of this, Sonia. I want to know where my wife was and why she wasn't protecting our daughter."
"Protecting her from what? Gay people?" I came alive. "Seriously?"
The shopping excursion gets contrasted with the fact that the men went to Hooters for lunch:
In the corner, Grandpa joked to Uncle Henry, "Well, the women don't kiss at Hooters. Wouldn't mind though." They chuckled. I felt sick.
Like all of us, however, their limited experience of the world beyond their home town partially defines them. When the newly-signed recording artists first visit Toronto, Tegan expresses confusion at what appears to be an ocean outside the window. She was unprepared for the reality of the Great Lakes.
Personally, I was glad the book concludes where it does. Tegan and Sara move from playing houses and basements and a few gigs with a band, to winning a battle of the bands competition and recording their first album with movie-montage swiftness. It really happened that way for them, and they provide some insights into some of their early decisions regarding the music industry. Nevertheless, fame makes for far less interesting reading than the struggles that took them there. The same might be said of a superior memoir, Patti Smith's award-winning Just Kids. Undoubtedly, High School will be read mainly by people who enjoy Tegan and Sara's music, or by teenagers, or by people who work with teenagers. But it says something that the book's most interesting elements are those that could appeal to a reader who doesn't care, particularly, that the protagonists grow up to be famous.