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Monday, April 21, 2008

The Truth Rings A Little False

Are there truths girls learn in childhood that evaporate as they enter adulthood? Are there nuggets of wisdom they glean from their mothers that disappear when they have children of their own? Is there a way to remember this wisdom so that mothers can improve relationships with their own daughters? Psychologist Barbara Becker Holstein thinks the answers to all of these questions is a resounding yes.

Dr. Barbara's new book, The Truth (I'm A girl, I'm smart and I know everything), uses the fictional diary of an anonymous 10-year-old girl to spread her "psychological messages about happiness." The book is meant to open communication between tween girls and their mothers. As such, it achieves its goal, but Dr. Barbara's purpose is so obvious that what could have been a sweet and entertaining narrative turns preachy pretty darn quick.

Between the pages of her diary, we meet a vibrant little girl whose voice is honest and sure. Her world isn't perfect - she's got a body that's changing, parents who fight too much, a boy she's trying to impress, and girls who giggle at her behind her back. Despite these uncertainties, there are some things she knows for sure, and plenty she could teach her parents, if they would only listen. Her observations are in turn funny, cocky, wise, and heartbreaking. Not all of it rings true (Do 10-year-olds really dream about skinny dipping with boys?), but the majority of it probably could have been written by a young girl (although it sounds more like a 12-year-old than a 10-year-old).

Like I mentioned, my biggest issue with this book is that it comes off as preachy, at least to an adult. I understand what Dr. Barbara is trying to do in this Are You There God, It's Me Margaret?-like story, and I think it and the questions at the back of the book will provide plenty for mothers and daughters to discuss, but I wonder if girls will find it authentic or not. For one thing, it seems dated. I know Dr. Barbara is trying to connect generations of women, so perhaps she purposely mentioned things like Brownie cameras and Nancy Drew, but since there are no dates in the diary, these details come off weirdly. Also, the narrator seems a little mature for 10. A child that young obsessing about boys, breasts, and menstruating rings untrue for me. I could be the one who is dated, but I think the book would have been more authentic with an older narrator. Still, I think The Truth will resound with young girls navigating the choppy waters of burgeoning adolesence.

This book fits squarely into Dr. Barbara's philosophy of The Enchanted Self. She encourages using "positive states of mind, body and spirit" as a way of "recognizing the heroine within yourself." Part of this recognition is acknowleding that "your own personal memories contain not only your history of the story of your life, but there is a wealth of wisdom with which to reinvent yourself again and again." To this end, she recommends mining your past - especially truths gleaned in childhood - to "find coping skills, ability, talent and lost potential." Interesting. Check out her website for more information.

In conclusion, I have to say that tween readers can surely find better fiction on the library shelves, but The Truth is worth reading. It's definitely a story with a message, but it's not a bad story, and it could definitely open lines of communication between mothers and daughters whose relationships are often rocky. Basically, the message is listen, and that's a morale we can all use.

Grade: B -

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