Review: Tegan and Sara’s ‘High School; is a raw, powerful memoir

Sara Keirsten Quin, left, and Tegan Rain Quin of Tegan and Sara pose in the press room at the 2016 iHeartRADIO MuchMusic Video Awards on Sunday, June 19, 2016, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

Tegan and Sara’s dance-pop hit Closer concludes with a question.

“All I want to know is: Can you come a little closer?”

That query has been answered — at least for readers of the Canadian twins’ new memoir, High School.

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The Quin sisters’ look-back at their teenage years in 1990s Calgary, Alberta, is raw and powerful. Relying on journals, notes, photographs and, of course, their own memories and those of other principals, the authors’ richly detailed remembrances make you feel as though you’re a fellow student at Crescent Heights High. Readers will experience Tegan and Sara’s anguish as they grapple with their sexuality and their wonder as they discover the joy of making music together.

We now know them as award-winning singer-songwriters and LGBTQ2 activists, but back then, they, like so many of us, were just looking to survive their adolescence.

“In those first few months of high school, I learned to avert my eyes, to show them submission, to be a ghost,” Sara Quin writes in a chapter titled “Grade-Ten Dirtbags.”

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The Quins alternate authorship of the book’s 46 chapters, allowing readers to better understand each sister’s point of view as they navigate a winding road filled with drug consumption and mercurial relationships. We’re there when they combat homophobia in school and at home; flee from pipe-wielding men; and begin a life-long love affair with music after discovering their stepfather’s guitar in storage under the stairs at their home.

Dozens of personal photos appear throughout the book, and they are just as gritty and uncompromising as the prose. “Tegan high on acid in her bed,” one description reads. “Sara passed out drunk,” says another.

Now 39, the mighty Quins have sold over a million records during their award-winning, two-decade music career. But near the close of the last century, they were a couple of kids trying to find their way.

High School is not just a peek into their formative years. It’s a no-holds-barred origin story that takes readers not only closer to that world, but all the way inside.

This cover image released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux shows “High School,” by Canadian duo Tegan and Sara Quin. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux via AP)

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