Book Chat


I have three daughters, ages 11, 13, and 15. So when a teacher friend recommended, “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls,” who was I to say no?

It was a good read. The title is based on Ophelia, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Happy as a young girl, Ophelia loses herself in adolescence and lives only for the approval of Hamlet and her father. She goes mad with grief when her authority figures spurn her, and finally drowns herself in a stream. Author Mary Pipher wrote this book hoping to help parents prevent Ophelia-like experiences with their own daughters.

Pipher describes how most girls begin life happy and independent, knowing themselves and their own strengths and wishes. But that tends to change in adolescence. Because of physical changes , our society, and the cruelty of other adolescents, many girls at this stage become confused. They don’t know who they are anymore, or maybe they just don’t like themselves. They begin to doubt their abilities. They look around them and see the roles women play, and many of them don’t like those roles. They feel trapped and hopeless.

Girls this age are very idealistic. They may become advocates for the poor, or for animals. This may be because they identify with the powerlessness of these groups, and in wishing to help them, they subconsciously wish to save and help themselves.

In studying girls who remained strong through this period, she cites that they had in common time by themselves and the ability to fall in love with an idea. None of them were popular and most stayed separate from peers, not by choice, but because they were rejected. This very rejection gave them a protected space in which they could develop their uniqueness.  Smart girls are often the girls most rejected by peers.

At this time when girls are going through so much turmoil, they tend to turn away from their families. It’s a natural move toward independence, but it’s sad as well because they are cutting off the support of those most interested in their welfare. They have loved and been loved by people whom they now must betray to fit into peer culture. Furthermore, they are discouraged by peers from expressing sadness at the loss of family relationships — even to say they are sad is to admit weakness and dependency.

Pipher is a counselor who shared many of her experiences in working with girls in this stage. I liked her philosophy of trying to find the positives at work within each family and capitalize on those things, rather than trying to “pathologize” families. She encouraged her teen clients to tolerate frustrations and control their impulses — to develop a “hate it but do it center” that’s almost nonexistent in many teens. This step, she felt, was necessary for them to meet most of their long-term goals. Often what hurts in the short term is ultimately rewarding, while what feels good in the short term is ultimately punishing. So true — I will be eternally grateful that, for reasons beyond my understanding, I’ve always seemed to have this center in my brain. Thank you, God, for that.

In describing many of her clients, Pipher describes some teens who grow up with very open parents who encourage them to follow their interests. Those parents allow their kids to do a lot more than I would in the way of drinking, dating, etc. Often, those kids ended up with addictions and in some bad situations. However, Pipher saw the positive side that those kids had freedom and learned to make decisions, even if many of those decisions were poor. She also told of several girls with very strict families. While these girls largely stayed out of traditional “trouble,” Pipher saw the downside that often they had a hard time making decisions and knowing who they truly were. In looking back at her own small-town past, Pipher writes, “I’m confused about whether I was more repressed or just happier. Sometimes I think all this expression of emotion is good, and sometimes, particularly when I see beleaguered mothers, I wonder if we have made progress.” Amen to that.

Pipher writes that mothers are likely to have the most difficult time with adolescent girls, who often provoke arguments as a way of connecting and distancing at the same time. They trust their moms to put up with their anger and to stand by them wne they are unreasonable — an enormous compliment, but one that’s hard to accept because it’s couched in such hostile terms.

I agreed with parts of this book, felt grateful for my own kids as I read about some of the messes described, and overall was glad I read it. It helps me empathize with the huge transition girls have to go through in our society (I know, I know: first-world problems!). I do think that the book would greatly benefit from an updated edition, as this one referred repeatedly to the ’90s. There was almost no mention of computers, and no mention of many things that rule teen lives today: cell phones, texting, etc.

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I “bought” “Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise” as a Kindle freebie, based almost entirely on the cute cover. I must say that the four books in the series all have great covers.

I’d give Charlotte Figg 3 stars out of 5. The book tells the tale of Charlotte, a middle-aged woman whose 51-year-old jerk of a husband drops dead of a heart attack. Charlotte moves to a trailer park and comes into her own for the first time in her life as she starts a baseball team among the women in the park and makes good friends.

Sounds promising, but like the first book of the series, this one also failed to ever really grab my interest. The writing is just average and the book drags at 400 pages. Going on and on and on about the details of a baseball practice, baking pies, etc — I’m not sure I’ll read books 3 and 4, even if they do have nice covers. What’s that saying? You can’t judge a book …

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I frequently tune in to The O’Reilly Factor on TV, so I’d heard a lot about the host’s books, “Killing Lincoln,” and now “Killing Kennedy.” I read the Kennedy book first — probably because the Kennedys fascinate me. About twenty years ago, I read¬† a lot about the Kennedy assassination — maybe six books or so. I got into minute detail on it. What’s my theory? I don’t really know. Each book I read presented a pretty compelling case, so I suppose I’d go with the latest one.

“Killing Kennedy” is a good book to read on the Kennedy assassination if you don’t really know much about it. It’s fast-paced and gives all the basics, as well as weaving the story into the events of the time — the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and more. It goes with the Oswald-shot-Kennedy angle, and really barely even mentions that other theories abound.

If you’re pretty knowledgeable about JKF already, you’re unlikely to learn anything new here. Still, I enjoyed reading the book. It’s a step back into another era, even if that era wasn’t exactly the Camelot Jackie hoped we’d believe.

10 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. You are an impressive reader and writer – maybe I will follow in your footsteps someday…

  2. My dad had a thing for the Kennedys and read a lot of books about JFK’s death, which is the primary reason I find that one interesting. (I do like history though!) Good to hear your thoughts on that one – in that it was so-so if you know a lot about it but still interesting.

    Happy continued reading!

  3. Your book reviews are always thought provoking. I appreciate your excellent writing skills and quest for knowledge in today’s busy world.

  4. I remember reading OPHELIA in college in the 90s as part of my human services program. I agree that it would be a great book to be revised!
    -Dawn, 5M4B

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