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Totally Alien Life Form: Teenagers

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Sydney Lewis, who worked for years with the legendary oral historian Studs Terkel, interviewed young people between the ages of thirteen and nineteen from across the country to gather the material for this book. Forty teens talk about sex in the age of AIDS, violence on the streets and at home, and the widespread availability of drugs. But they also talk about their concern for the environment, politics, race relations, education, their religious and spiritual needs, and how technology both excites and frightens ...
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Overview

Sydney Lewis, who worked for years with the legendary oral historian Studs Terkel, interviewed young people between the ages of thirteen and nineteen from across the country to gather the material for this book. Forty teens talk about sex in the age of AIDS, violence on the streets and at home, and the widespread availability of drugs. But they also talk about their concern for the environment, politics, race relations, education, their religious and spiritual needs, and how technology both excites and frightens them. Most searing are emotional discussions of what's really important in their lives: the people for whom they care and who care for them; parents and grandparents; love-hate relationships with siblings and friends; and their desire for acceptance and independence. In a book that simultaneously confirms and explodes all the cliches about life as an adolescent, they discuss plans, fears, ambitions, and even nostalgia for the not-so-long-gone simplicity of childhood.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This set of high-energy, intimate interviews with 47 teenagers from around the nation, who differ widely in social, economic and racial backgrounds, explodes the media-sustained image of a complacent "Generation X." Lewis, author of a previous oral history, Hospital, wins her subjects' confidence, drawing them out on much more than sex, drugs and personal relationships, as they unguardedly discuss politics, religion and their anxieties, hopes for a meaningful future and concern for the planet's survival. Many of these teens are traumatized by their parents' divorces; one copes with a manic-depressive, schizophrenic mother, another with the loss of her father to cancer, yet all display resilience and an intelligent questioning of the adult world. Joe Zefran, 18, who tried to run for alderman in Chicago but couldn't get on the ballot, comments: "I like Clinton idealistically but he can't do what he wants to dohe has to compromise too much.... I'd like us to be like England. There's not a single reason that people should have guns." Rebekah Evenson of Manhattan says, "Somehow the conservative element in the Republican Party, and in the Democratic Party, have been able to convince poor, working-class Americans that it's in their best interest to subsidize this top 1 percent [of the wealthiest households] and to help them keep getting richer." A riveting slice-of-life generational portrait. $35,000 ad/promo. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Reading transcripts of teenagers telling their own stories is fascinating. These young men and women are insightful, vulnerable, hopeful, intelligent, caring, frightened, and responsible, as well as brave, irresponsible, swaggering, certain, and uncertain. Lewis, clearly a practiced and exceptional interviewer who has other oral histories to her credit (Hospitals, LJ 11/15/94), nevertheless fails to provide analysis. After a brief introduction, the book is simply a collection of narratives gathered into chapters with intriguing names ("Faith," "Secrets," "Brotherly Love") but no explanation tying the stories together. It will be a disappointment to anyone looking for the depth of Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia (LJ 5/15/96). Still, this work may be the best book available containing the perspectives of male and female teenagers, so it is recommended with reservations.Constance Rinaldo, Dartmouth Coll. Biomedical Libs., Hanover, N.H.
Kirkus Reviews
An oral history of teens based on 60 interviews presenting a cross-section of the American cultural, economic, racial, and social spectrum.

Oral historian Lewis (Hospital: An Oral History of Cook County Hospital, 1995) makes an admirable effort to present an all- encompassing portrait of contemporary teens, but an overly ambitious agenda results in an ultimately unsatisfying book. What's most interesting—despite the overall plodding tone of the monologues—is the disturbing image of America in the '90s that's projected here. Drugs are everywhere. Not just for ten-year-olds in inner-city projects, but even in integrated suburban public schools, "drugs are just full frontal in your face every day." Violence is also common in the lives of too many teens. Thirteen- year-old Manhattanite Melissa Tates recalls looking out of her window and seeing "this lady walking with her baby carriage, and the bullet went right by her head." Melissa's nights are often disturbed by the sound of gunshots. And despite growing up with the threat of AIDS, many of the young people here speak quite casually about sex. Seventeen-year-old Jian Berry talks about her friends who "get caught up in the moment . . . don't use condoms . . . and it's incredibly scary." Touched by such parental problems as mental illness, divorce, and economic instability, Lewis's subjects—some already raising their own children—have much to contend with. Yet most of these teens display enough resilience to give pep talks to their faltering parents, to remind their mothers to take their medication, and to serve as role models for their younger siblings.

Some alarming material, ill-digested. Despite arresting or moving moments, this oral history would have benefitted by having a sharper focus, with fewer subjects and less of the consequent repetition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565842823
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 9/28/1996
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.30 (d)

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