Thursday, April 5, 2012

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin (NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2012).  Reviewed from e-copy provided by publisher.

Kelsey Finkelstein has high expectations for her freshman year of high school, but right from the start, everything seems to go wrong. Even worse, someone seems intent on publicly humiliating her by placing photographs of some of her most embarrassing moments in the school paper!  Still she remains optimistic, despite the challenges of stinky soccer goalie equipment, bad make-out experiences, major wardrobe malfunctions in the school musical, and a prom date who goes missing.

This book was hilarious--I laughed till I cried.  Kelsey is a hoot, and her optimism in the face of all her bad luck makes her extremely likable.  The embarrassing mom and pesty little sister are somewhat stereotypical, but Kelsey and the situations she gets stuck in make up for them.  It's amazing how Kelsey keeps thinking that she can try something else to boost her popularity, and whatever can go wrong, does go wrong.  If you need a good laugh, this is the book for you.  Recommended for ages 13 & up.  Sexual situations, alcohol, language.

Girl Land

Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan (NY: Little, Brown, 2012). Review copy provided by publisher.

According to Caitlin Flanagan, Girl Land  is that special terrain adolescent females must traverse to become women.  Some of the most important and enduring landmarks are friendships with girls (and boys), menstruation, dating, proms, and sexual initiation.  Girls need to spend a lot of time alone to make the journey successfully, much more so than boys, and unfortunately modern girls have much less of this important solitude available to them than the girls of previous generations, which is changing the types of women who are emerging.

Flanagan's social history focuses almost exclusively on a subset of adolescent girls who happen to be at least middle class if not upper middle class to simply wealthy. While there may be some overlap of experiences with all girls (every girl gets her period; not every girl goes to prom), there are plenty who do not have the luxury of solitude due to family and work obligations, so where does that leave them on this journey? Apparently in some kind of psychological quagmire. Don't get me wrong--this was an interesting book, but I kept thinking that most of the examples and discussion assumed a particular (well-to-do) subset of girls who had time for navel gazing introspection. I enjoyed Flanagan's comparison of girlhood and adolescence in various decades in the twentieth century to the contemporary scene, especially the impact of  social media and the Internet on girls' interior life.  Overall, this extremely readable book dwells nostalgically on the past, sentimentalizing and white washing the negative to a certain extent. However, Flanagan makes the point that girlhood has certainly changed with girls today having much less privacy, and this change may negatively affect girls' development.