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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech

Imitating a 13 year old writing in a diary is a tricky art. Sharon Creech has mastered it. This is written as a journal that Mary Lou, the main character, was instructed to keep over the summer for next year's English teacher.

Mary Lou's summer highlights consist of important things at age 13: her best friend, a boyfriend, and family. The extra twist is that her cousin Carl Ray comes to stay at their house, and it's a mystery at first what he is doing there. Mary Lou comes to find out later. In addition, Mary Lou is reading The Odyssey over the summer and writes her witty comments on Odysseus's saga.

I wanted to like this book because Sharon Creech is a good writer and her character is witty, normal, zesty, and utterly believable. Her journal entries are all short enough and intriguing enough for even reluctant readers to buy into painlessly.
Unfortunately, there was minor nitpicking all the way up to major nitpicking to do on my part.

Minor: she kisses a boy quickly for curiosity's sake, and is thrilled when her summer boyfriend kisses her. She likes to use the word "God" and "Lord" casually. Her mother corrects her, and she switches to "Oh, Deity" or "Oh Alpha and Omega." There is no explanation for WHY her mom objects which is what matters. Her older sister buys a "skinny black dress with no back."

Major: There is a reference to her aunt moving away while she was pregnant with a casual, "I think they got married first." Her cousin, Carl Ray, came to live with them because this same aunt was, indeed, pregnant with him, and the man was not the man she married. When visiting this family, there is casual mention of a girl getting pregnant at 16, and a cousin gives her a book as a parting gift that is about sex. (that is all that is described).
It is the casual, matter-of-fact mention of these things that I find troubling. As my tween (who read it before I did and quite liked it) pointed out: she already knows this stuff happens and tweens do think about kissing. I had to point out that the casual acceptance was a loud message about how this author thinks about it, and I'm not buying it.
Also, what are 13 yr. olds doing dating? I'm just not a big fan of the idea. In fact, hormonal young people on unsupervised outings is not one the more brilliant outcomes of the sexual revolution.
My 13 year old isn't yet in the dating/boyfriend scene, so it was a teaching moment for discussing dating, courting, and marriage.

I object to the casual treatment of a major theme: extra-marital sex. Added to the effort to make normal giving a gift of a book on sex to someone you don't have a close relationship with, and the over-emphasis on boys and dating at an early age, I have to send this to the DaVinci pile.


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