“The curse was the silence impressed upon her, her mother before her, and countless women before them. The curse was the sickness that silence becomes when swallowed, lumps of unspoken words ticking like bombs. Our task was to reclaim and speak, to take up space with our bodies and our voices. This is how we save ourselves, my mother constantly reminded.”
Allie Rowbottom’s family is intrinsically connected to one of the most iconic consumer products of all time: Jell-O. The resulting fortune created generations of wealth, alongside a long string of tragic events that her family called “the curse.” After hearing of the premature death and the mental illness that consumed the women in her family, Rowbottom tells their stories- fittingly- alongside the story of Jell-O itself.
Since the very first advertisements, Jell-O was constantly positioned and re-positioned as a way for women to meet the expectations imposed by a given era. By turns it was a marker of sophistication at a turn-of-the-century dinner party, an economical depression-era treat, an effortless dessert for a 1950s nuclear family, a shortcut for a guilty working mom, a traditionally feminine way for a busy career woman to please a man. Juxtaposing these old ads with the complicated struggles and triumphs of her grandmother, mother and herself, Rowbottom presents a revealing and ultimately liberating counter-narrative to these idealized visions that will resonate with every woman who has struggled with external expectations.
"Rowbottom weaves together her family history and the story of the classic American dessert to produce a book that alternately surprises and mesmerizes. Despite its title, this isn't a bland tale that goes down easy; Jell-O Girls is dark and astringent, a cutting rebuke to its delicate, candy-colored namesake.... Rowbottom has the literary skills and the analytical cunning to pull it off. Like a novelist, she can imagine herself into the emotional lives of others, while connecting her story and theirs to a larger narrative of cultural upheaval.... The writing is lush yet alert to specific.... But then Rowbottom's book is too rich and too singular to reduce to a tidy argument.... Gorgeous."― New York Times
Rowbottom’s essays can be found in Vanity Fair, Salon, The Florida Review, No Tokens, The South Loop Review, PQueue, Hunger Mountain, The Rumpus, A Women's Thing and elsewhere. Her essay “Ghosts and Houses” won the 2015 Editor’s Award from The Florida Review and received a "notable" mention in The Best American Essays of 2016. Her long lyric work, “World of Blue” received her a "notable" mention in The Best American Essays of 2015. She has taught fiction and non-fiction at the University of Houston and CalArts, as well as at Boldface, an undergraduate creative writing conference. Allie has been the recipient of fellowships from Inprint and Tin House, where she was a 2016 scholar. Allie holds a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston, and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. She is based in Los Angeles.