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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In 1999, Sara Shandler's Ophelia Speaks provided alarming confirmation of the overwhelming struggles facing adolescent girls that Mary Pipher depicted in her 1994 bestseller Reviving Ophelia. Just 19 at the time of the book's publication, Sara served as the conduit for teenage girls throughout the country, gathering and documenting their emotional sagas alongside her own in a poignant and courageous book. But what was going on behind the scenes in the households into which Sara offered us a glimpse? What source of strength was propelling these girls forward into adulthood even as they grappled with such issues as eating disorders, violence, and sexuality? Their mothers.
Psychologist and mother Nina Shandler offers inspiration and comfort for these women as they watch their daughters navigate the most turbulent stage of their lives. Culled from the submissions of about 350 mothers nationwide, Ophelia's Mom provides an outlet for the fears, frustrations, heartaches, and joys of guiding a daughter (or perhaps being dragged by a daughter) through the years of adolescence.
Unlike Reviving Ophelia and Ophelia Speaks, both of which valiantly call attention to the specific portion of teenage girls dealing with very serious, even deadly, issues, Ophelia's Mom is more representative of the full range of experience. The featured contributions run the gamut from lighthearted contemplations on shopping or telephone wars to more heartbreaking reflections on a daughter's drug abuse or a permanently fractured mother-daughter relationship. Throughout the chapters, Nina Shandler intersperses her own experiences raising two very different daughters: Manju, artistic, self-possessed, and fiercely independent; and Sara, outgoing and strong willed (unafraid, for example, to ask her mother to take her to Family Planning for birth control at 15), yet vulnerable to flirtations with depression and distorted body image.
Another asset of the book is the inclusion of the voices of those who have lived through this tumultuous stage. Many mothers write about the pain they endured as their adolescent daughters severed their once-intimate emotional connection, yet an equal number of mothers write about the return of that closeness as their daughters pass into adulthood, the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, as in life, not every story has a happy ending. But a sense of hope and the ongoing process of maturation -- of both mothers and daughters -- resonates in these stories.
In addition to editing and supplementing the contributions from mothers, Shandler displays some perceptive insights on mothers as a community. In fact, Shandler credits the often judgmental and competitive nature of this community for the veil of silence surrounding the great difficulty of this stage of motherhood. Insecurity about their parenting skills and instinctual protectiveness of their daughter's private battles also tends to keep mothers from sharing their stories. However, Shandler's book has shattered the silence, and the shame, that isolates such mothers.
While the impetus for Ophelia's Mom may have been her daughter's journey, Nina Shandler undoubtedly steps out from the shadow and into her own light in this rich and insightful work. It is a book that will enrich our understanding and appreciation of our mothers, our daughters, and ourselves. (Karen Burns)