Catherine Hardwicke’s new film, “Thirteen,” has once again raised the issue of adolescent girls’ social rituals, especially the more brutal aspects. The same topic propels two recent books, Rachel Simmons’s Odd Girl Out and Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman. According to Simmons, adolescent female culture is fraught with treachery and strained niceties (“alternative aggressions,” she calls them) that are more reminiscent of a sixteenth-century court than a sweet-sixteen party. Wiseman, whose book has been released in paperback, includes a set of charts that plot “power plays” and track the ascendance of a socially dominant girl, a “Queen Bee” among the drones. But by collecting the byzantine stories of betrayal, both authors provide a tonic to social isolation: as Simmons puts it, “What crushed girls was being alone.”
Linda Perlstein came to a similar conclusion in her interviews with Maryland middle-schoolers in Not Much Just Chillin'. For all their rebellion, experimentation, and body piercing, kids still want to be reached by their coaches, teachers, and even parents. “Wanting to be independent is not the same as wanting to be left alone,” Perlstein writes. The sixth to eighth graders she interviews have complex opinions on justice, religion, and mortality -- while adults fret over whether video games create irrational fears of violence, students formulate sophisticated responses to events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11th. And one seventh-grade girl is equally philosophical about love: “The one for you could be two years old right now, or ninety. My soulmate could’ve been Benjamin Franklin.” (Lauren Porcaro)
In contrast to the recent spate of books that focus on bullying (e.g., Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabees and Rachel Simmons's Odd Girl Out), Washington Post education reporter Perlstein examines all facets of being an ordinary "tween." She discusses such issues as consumerism (according to Perlstein, 12- to 15-year-olds spend on average $59 a week, not counting money their parents spend on them); romance, which doesn't necessarily imply the couple ever spends time alone together; and the phenomenon of instant messaging-all to give parents of young children an idea of what lies ahead. True, much can be learned from reading catalogues and magazines geared specifically to preteens, like Delia's catalogue, CosmoGIRL! and YM, but Perlstein delves deeper into how boys and girls view life by tracking five students at Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia, Md., a "rough" suburban school in an affluent area. Her subjects include the likable eighth-grader Eric Ellis, who is very bright and very bored, and seventh-graders Jackie Taylor, who is learning to deal with crushes on boys, and Elizabeth Ginsburg, whose favorite answer to her parents' questions is "nothing." There are also sixth-graders Jimmy Schissel, who is unhappy with his changing body, and Lily Mason, who worries about wearing-and doing-the right thing. In addition to details about the children's confirmations, bat mitzvahs, friendships and homework, Perlstein interweaves information about how middle-school children learn best and what parents can do to help. Agent, Gail Ross. (Sept. 4) Forecast: Although Perlstein doesn't break any ground the way the bullying books did, parents eager to know more about what it's going to be like when their kids get to middle school will find this helpful. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This anthropological study of middle schoolers is fascinating and informative. Perlstein, a reporter embedded in a suburban Columbia, Maryland, middle school, chronicles a year in the life of several "tweens"youth who are barely teens but no longer children. Much like A Tribe Apart by Patricia Hersch (Ballantine 1998/VOYA, The View from VOYA, August 1998), this study digs into the hearts and minds of youth. Especially valuable for librarians and parents is the information about how life changes for this age group once it leaves elementary school behind. Not only are their bodies changing, but also their social lives and academic demands alter. The book is divided by season, beginning with autumn, and as time progresses, the author illustrates how middle schoolers quickly lose their innocence and inhibitions. An intriguing aspect of the study is how middle schoolers use instant messaging to communicate with each other. Chapter two, "Everyone Else Thinks It's a Stupid Plane Crash," describes the apathy and fear felt by students during the terrorist attacks on September 11. Whereas the teachers attempt to explain the significance of the day, some middle schoolers simply see it as a day when they got to leave school early. The author intersperses information about adolescent development with observations of students. The book will be valuable to youth service workers and parents who want to learn more about the significant changes faced by teens when they enter middle school. It is highly recommended for public libraries, school libraries, and current and future young adult librarians. 2003, Farrar Straus Giroux, 261p.; Biblio. Source Notes., Ages adult professional.
In this groundbreaking study, Perlstein chronicles the frightening and fascinating lives of the kids, teachers, and parents she grew to know intimately during a year in Columbia, MD. She introduces Eric, a bright but unmotivated African-American boy hobbled by his home life, and Elizabeth, an overachieving only child whose doting folks try to help her navigate a year of competitive swimming, her Bat Mitzvah, and pressures none of them really comprehend. She also profiles Jackie, who has become so "relationship" obsessed that her world resembles a soap opera. Sixth-graders Jimmy, whose body changes have him simultaneously terrified and thrilled, and Lily, who agonizes over what constitutes "cool" in a world where nothing makes sense anymore, are just beginning to move into the mysterious hall of mirrors that is middle school. Deft writing punctuated by well-documented observations bring these people and the depths of their challenges to life. In this subculture of suffocating peer pressure, burgeoning sexuality, obsessive gaming, gay bashing, and "IM"ing, no one emerges unscathed. Readers will emerge more knowledgeable, more understanding, and more than a little concerned for the future of all of us.-Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
“Perlstein’s interpretation of what’s going on inside [middle schooler’s] hormone-charged world is information every educator and parent should have. . . . A fascinating and important book.”
“Linda Perlstein has a wonderful and compassionate way of presenting the incredibly poignant day-to-day stories of middle schoolers. A truly valuable book.”
–ANTHONY E. WOLF, PH.D., author of Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?
“Chillin’ may not make parents feel more comfortable about early adolescence’s arrival in their household, but it will certainly make them more prepared.”
–The New York Times
“PERLSTEIN IS A GODSEND. . . . ELOQUENTLY ARTICULATING THE STUDENTS’ HIDDEN PERSPECTIVES.”