When my kids were little, the books I remembered from my own
childhood came flooding back: The Poky Little Puppy, All of a Kind
Family, Dr. Suess, Red Tag the Salmon, Island of the Blue Dolphins. But
I thought, somehow, that I remembered them sort of separately from the
ages my kids were, or that, I don't know, that was going to be the sum
total of my childhood-book-reading memories.
It turns out, there's a whole other vein of book memories to be, uh,
explored, and it's a wee bit more upsetting than those mentioned
previously. As I watch Diana get ready for middle school, and
teenager-hood (teenage-dom?), I'm remembering the scary books of
adolescence: Go Ask Alice, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Lisa
Bright and Dark.
I know that books tend to change along with kids. Someone 10 won't get
the same rush from Machines at Work that someone 4 will. And I welcome
the increasing complexity of their minds, their interests, and their
comprehension of the world around them. It's been pretty excellent thus far.
But why were we reading so much about crazy girls back then? Was it a
70s thing? Is it part of an evolving understanding of mental health? Or is it a
70s disaster-movie sense that the world itself going crazy? Or is it part of handling adolescence,
the feeling that you're crazy as is everything and everyone around you. But why girls specifically?
They don't seem to publish these sorts of books now. Or am I wrong? Maybe I need to explore the world of YA more.
But why were we all reading these? What do you guys think?
5 thoughts on “Crazy Girls”
I think it’s all of the above. Teenagers worry that they’re crazy, the toy with being crazy, they wonder about their friends and family being crazy. Check out Laurie Halse Anderson for more contemporary crazy/troubled-teenage literature. GREAT author, by the way.
There’s the aspect of publishers and authors using teenage literature to try and reach actual troubled teenagers and let them know they’re not alone, there’s help out there, etc. I’m not sure that’s ever worked, but adults will probably never stop trying. And maybe it is effective, for all I know.
I know that I was (and in some moods still am) drawn to the crazy literature, and now that I’m (I hope) more mature I see that it’s not good for my actual mental health to immerse myself in the worlds of the crazy books out there, though it scratches a weird itch. A nice Madeline L’Engle or Cynthia Voigt is much healthier for my mental state.
I think, to some extent, it’s about reassuring yourself that there’s someone else who has it worse, who is MORE crazy/MORE out of place/ MORE disturbed than you are. Because at that age, we all feel awkward, troubled, lost, and yeah-a little crazy.
As a parent it’s tough to think of YOUR kids like that, but I have yet to have a friend who didn’t feel like that at SOME point between 11 and 24. And that’s the moment that we gravitate towards it.
It’s a healthy exploration.
It also has something to do with being ridiculously into drama.
I became a VC Andrews addict at age 12 (7th grade)…it didn’t mean I wanted to sleep with my brother or lock my future kids in an attic. I think teens are addicted to drama and it’s much safer to explore it through literature than in real life (gossip, etc).
I was just talking the other day about all the cancer books I read at that age, “Six Months to Live,” et cetera. I think C nailed it, it’s about feeling like you are not the worst one in the proverbial room.
Kids *absolutely* still read the craziest, most dramatic and troubling stories they can get their hands on around this age. I now work in a building that only goes up to 4th grade, but my last job was K-12th in one building. 10 years ago, A Child Called It, which was such a detailed account of child abuse that I could not even glance past the first page, was the biggest hit in the library for the tween set. I guarantee there is still horrifying stuff being published for these guys to read. I am interested in the fact that some of the kids may be steered off to strange vampire stories instead or in addition, though.
As for me, my mother never once denied me a book. Ever. Which meant I read Mommy Dearest at age 7 and Go Ask Alice (etc) by age 10. VC Andrews, like everyone else, at 12. And other than those kids who were casualties of my need to play out the wire hanger scene on the playground, no one was any worse for it. Heh. Also I became a librarian. So there’s that.
I think the attraction to crazy-girl stories (like vampire books, or Nazi books) is also about the opportunity to explore darkness in a “safe” way. If you’re a “good girl” (as many of us voracious readers probably were), reading something like Go Ask Alice (or its 21st century equivalent, Tweak) is the closest you may ever get to encountering the underbelly of life.
And yes, they definitely still publish books like that!