Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame
by Mara Wilson
Tackling everything from how Mara Wilson first learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to losing her mother at a young age, to getting her first kiss (or was it kisses?) on a celebrity canoe trip, to not being “cute” enough to make it in Hollywood, these essays tell the story of one young woman’s journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. But they also illuminate a universal struggle: learning to accept yourself, and figuring out who you are and where you belong.
Mara Wilson’s face is one a lot of us recognise from our childhood. As I was born in ’99 and raised in the noughties, I watched Matilda constantly, something that a lot of budding bibliophiles seem to have in common. A film about a young girl who overcomes great adversity, thanks to spending her younger years in the library, and some handy telekinesis– Matilda is the perfect recipe for a young girl who spent all her time indoors, reading about fantasy worlds.
Reading Where Am I Now? is almost life changing for me. I’ve followed Mara Wilson for years in terms of her career thanks to getting into Welcome to Night Vale in its early days, but so much of what I read in this changed the way I looked at not just her, but fame in general.
So much of Mara Wilson’s life is laid bare here. I picked this up while I was in a bad headspace shortly after my dad passed away, and her openness about losing her mother and how that continues to impact her and her family, while it made me cry, was also a relief as it reassured me that I can get through how difficult it is. Her discussion of her mental health offered me another point of strange solidarity, myself mirrored in her mentioning her harmful thoughts and mounting fears.
And it was fame that played a massive part in her fears. While it enabled Mara to find lifelong friends and connections, fame also brought with it a complete violation of her privacy and safety, especially as a young girl. She recounts a moment where she discovered a pornographic site that manipulated images of her own face onto the bodies of young children, and cried. It’s heartbreaking how much it warped her perception of her safety and her talent, how she never felt good enough because she grew up in a world obsessed with nostalgia and childhood, and it’s this idea of ‘growing up’ that lingers throughout.
A lot of the negativity surrounding this memoir in reviews seems to be the frankness with which Mara discusses sex. I believe this is because she was a child star and, without meaning to, readers keep imagining the little girl from Matilda discussing the fact that she had a PG-13 kissing orgy when she was on a celebrity canoe trip. It’s not intended, but so much influences how we read something.
In how I read Mara’s words, her challenging the idea of sex as ‘impure’ seems to be a way for her to twist the narrative the public have created that they expect her to live by. She was a child star, yes, but she’s a woman now. Following her as she grows up means you get to witness a change I also went through, as a girl who grew up into a young woman: where ‘slut’ is no longer synonymous with the ‘other girl’, but recognised as a word allocated to any women who dare to enjoy sex. Maybe it’s just me, but I went through a massive overhaul in the way I viewed women once I started understanding what misogyny actually was, and this memoir perfectly captures how you separate yourself from other girls just because society tells you that being like them is bad, and it’s only through deep analysis of your own actions that you realise how wrong you’ve been.
We follow along with the rise and decline of Mara’s career in acting, how she went on to act and become a writer and comedian, preferring– in many cases– to work behind the screens, instead of in front of them. Even though there are still most definitely invasions of her private life, Mara grabbed control of her life and narrative, took it away from the public eye, and it’s that control I want to have over my own creative image as I go into my twenties. So much feels out of your control at this stage in your life, when you no longer have the shield of school systems and you’re expected to be an ‘adult’, and it feels like everyone is judging you every step of the way. Being able to create for myself, above all else, feels imperative to gaining back some semblance of control.
You may not be able to control how others perceive you, but you can work on how you perceive yourself. If there’s one thing I got out of reading this memoir, it’s that, and I thank Mara Wilson for what this reading experience offered me.
If you liked this review, you might like:
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🍎Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
🍎Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink