Tavi Gevinson and I are emailing at night – 11pm my time, "free period" at school hers.
She's telling me what it felt like four years ago as a 12-year-old blogger, when high-profile fashion insiders started saying her writing was too good to be true. They suggested that she, with her dyed grey hair and self-styled fashion shoots in the garden of her family's home in suburban Chicago, was not who she claimed to be.
"When people started to say I was fake, my dad gave me a short story called 'Claudine's Book', and I've been thinking about it again a lot lately," she says. It's the story of a gifted 12-year-old girl whose stepmother finds, then publishes, her diary. When the diary starts to get attention and journalists begin investigating its author, Claudine's stepmother takes credit for it. "And instead of denying it, Claudine is so sick of the attention that she lets everyone believe her stepmom helped her, and marches off whistling some kind of victory tune, back to her own little world that makes her happy." She continues: "I think my dad had me read this to let me know that attention doesn't promise happiness, and that you don't have to prove anything to anyone but yourself."
This year Tavi shifted from novelty blogger, a schoolgirl whose work was marvelled at with eyebrows raised, to legitimate, confident journalistic voice. At election time she appeared in a Public Service Announcement for women's rights, mouthing the words to Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me"; her TED talk, Still Figuring It Out, in which she discusses the impact of popular culture on teenage girls, has been watched more than 273,000 times, and she has quietly politicised her peers with projects like the call for Get Well Soon cards for Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl whose campaigning for education rights led to her shooting in October. Tavi was one of the first of her age group to harness the internet successfully, and her smart, dry declarations, in her unique, acronym-laden voice, have helped raise a generation of girls whose alternative spokespeople are largely apolitical, largely insecure, largely at the beginning of a very long diet.
Style Rookie, the blog she started aged 11, introduced her to her heroes (Miuccia Prada, Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano and Lady Gaga, who called her "the future of journalism") and gave way in 2010 to editing Rookie, an online magazine for girls. Within a week they'd had more than 1m page views. They publish three times a day: after school, after dinner and before bed, with a regular column called "Literally The Best Thing Ever" and contributions from people like Sarah Silverman and Lena Dunham. "It's amazing how permanent virginity feels," Dunham wrote for them in March, "and then how suddenly inconsequential."
On the anniversary of Rookie's launch, they published a yearbook: "In an attempt to do justice to our very best pieces from the September 2011-May 2012 school year. This is the stuff," Tavi writes, "that needed to be in pages adorned with doodles and glitter; that is revisited in times of angst and crisis, and that couldn't be just stared at on a screen for such an occasion."
The book contains a cut-out paper crown drawn by London fashion designers Meadham Kirchhoff, a red flexi-disc and a page of glossy stickers. Reading it is like inhaling a sleepover. There are essays about fandom, drugs, parties, masturbation. There are interviews with John Waters, David Sedaris and Joss Whedon, fashion stories inspired by David Bowie and teenage witches. In its 2010 profile of her, the New Yorker wrote: "Tavi's look is frequently described as cute, but there is also something jarring about it. This is partly an accident of her youthful appearance, and partly calculated. She is drawn to things that combine the innocent with the evil." Every page of the yearbook is covered with doodles and collages, a pinky, chewing-gummy lens through which you see their world. Illustrations and photos hark back to a time long, long before its authors were born, a mystical late 60s or tinted 90s, or a somewhere in a dream.
Most depictions of teenagedom are painted by people looking back on it from a great distance – John Hughes, Sofia Coppola, Judy Blume – so it's particularly refreshing to read about it from the inside. Pieces like "How To Not Care What Other People Think Of You" by a 16-year-old rather than a 40-year-old channelling one. "It's not about romanticising youth," explains Tavi. "It's about being realistic about how weird and unsexy this can all feel, then recognising it's a pitifulness literally everyone who has lived past the age of 18 has gone through, and maybe it's not so terrible, and maybe there's even a way to enjoy it."
What do the 40-year-olds forget? "Maybe that being a teenager wasn't so drastically different from being an adult?" she suggests. "One thing adults who read Rookie say is how shockingly relevant some of it feels to their own lives. This isn't because Rookie is accidentally more relevant to adults; it's because you grow and change and learn and evolve all the time, and it's not like you spend childhood and teenhood preparing for adulthood and then everything is just a flat plane from that point on. It's like when people are shocked that a man like Daniel Clowes can write a realistic teen girl character [in Ghost World], and it turns out all he did was treat her as a human."
It's true – Rookie does feel relevant to adult life. Partly because, perhaps, the site and its attitude are reminiscent of a lost counter- cultural moment where change looked possible. Where, with grunge, with My So-Called Life, a grim, feminine moodiness was fashionable, and, pre-internet, there was a sense of exclusivity that is foreign today. Partly because, while we're bombarded with news of the agonies of adolescence, Rookie provides hope.
Retrospective hope, too – hope to our 16-year-old selves who are still standing alone at parties pretending we're waiting for the loo. Hillary Kelly, at the New Republic, is more cynical. To the adults infatuated with Tavi, Kelly writes: "Tavi represents a do-over, a last chance to grasp at youth. She is a manifestation of who they wish they had been – a cool kid with a head start at success in the fashion industry."
Maybe. But perhaps Rookie resonates because it teaches us things we didn't have time to learn the first time. How to deal with a broken heart, for instance (information that in the Rookie yearbook comes with a recommended playlist), or how to make it appear as though you've cooked a whole meal. "We are not saving the world," Tavi says, "but there is sadness in all people everywhere, and if Rookie contributes at all to making someone feel less sad, or less alone, or more thoughtful, or more creative, or more comfortable with themselves, I feel OK."
An exchange with Tavi is moving and hilarious, in equal parts. An astute comment about feminism is followed by a Justin Bieber clip; she links a quote about the Higgs boson discovery from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to the experience of growing up. "It's fantastic that my awkward phase coincided with the time in my life I would be most photographed at Fashion Week," she says, with no sarcasm. What does she want to write about next? "Last night was my friend's birthday party and I'm eager to get that down in my diary," she says, so I ask what happened.
"It was a surprise party in the woods," she replies. "I was terrified, so I kept saying to myself: 'These are Taylor Swift's woods, not David Lynch's' to relax. Then we came to a clearing where the sky was orange and it felt like we could've been in any other part of the world. We ate cake and ran around shrieking, and it was really nice."
Rookie Yearbook One, by Tavi Gevinson, is published by Drawn and Quarterly, £19.99. To order a copy for £14.99 with free UK p&p go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846
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image: © M. Keefe