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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
I got my first cat when I was six years old. She was a stray; my mother found her and brought her home to me. We spent 19 full years together. Always the perfect cat, she died in her sleep when she was growing too frail for fun. She must have known I would never have had the strength to put her to sleep myself.
I was (understandably) devastated when she died -- and my phone rang off the hook. Many of my friends had grown up with my cat, too, and were calling to express their grief. The weeks after her death are a weepy blur, but one conversation stands out in my mind. A woman I wasn't very close to called to tell me about the death of her dog. There was something overwhelmingly comforting about her story. Even though she didn't know me or my "kitten" well, her shared experience just made me feel less alone.
Shared stories are the idea of Chocolate for a Teen's Soul by Kay Allenbaugh. "Rich stories, like chocolate, not only make you feel good, they can also serve as comfort through confusing times," she writes in her introduction. (Allenbaugh is apparently a chocolate freak; she has also written Chocolate for Woman's Soul, ...for a Lover's Heart, ...for a Woman's Heart, ...for a Mother's Heart, etc.) Her collected stories, written by women young and old and bundled by theme in chapters like "Onward and Upward," "Making Memories," and "What Is This Thing Called Love?", are not always uplifting -- and therein lies the strength of Chocolate for a Teen's Soul.
The emotional range of Allenbaugh's selected stories is impressive. One girl explains how the death of her great-grandfather gave her the strength to ask a popular boy to dance with her. Experiencing death taught her to "make each moment count." Which is also why she is capable of handling it when he turns her down. (Never fear, another cute boy comes along in a moment.) Another young woman writes of a teacher who doubts her poetry skills and forces her to stand up and defend herself for the first time in her life. Yet another girl writes about fear, roller coasters, and her father. There are, of course, the perennially interesting tales of first loves, as well as the now ubiquitous but unfortunately necessary essays on abuse (by a boyfriend) and eating disorders.
Allenbaugh wasn't satisfied to leave it at that. She smartly chose to vary the voices in her book. Hence the story written by a mother coming to terms with her daughter growing up. Or the wonderful story of a woman who fled Soviet-occupied Hungary. This "global" story demonstrates the universality of adolescent worries; she, too, thinks about clothes and friends.
Allenbaugh has bound together a delightful mix of stories. Her goal, as stated in her introduction, is to mentor teens with her stories, and surely she has succeeded. The bulk of her success lies in her somewhat quirky sensibility. In the middle of Allenbaugh's "Love" chapter is a delightful story, "Grooming Nisha." This is no first-kiss tale but rather the experience of a girl who raises seeing-eye dogs -- caring for them until they are old enough to perform their duties. She details the bittersweet pain of giving Nisha up. There is also a story on the death of a family dog.
Which leads me right back to my kitten. Sometimes, especially when you are 14, the word "love" means romantic love. Friends are surely sympathetic if you and your boyfriend break up. But what about if your kitty dies? Adults usually understand that kind of pain better. In Chocolate for a Teen's Soul, Allenbaugh opens up the definition of love and of other experiences. She teaches and offers comfort in the form of shared experience...just like that acquaintance of mine did.