Kids in America
4 journalers for this copy...
I already read another copy of this book so I'll be passing this copy along to others as I enjoyed this book very much. This is what I wrote about it after I read it:..
Wow! This book contains very powerful and thought-provoking essays—each one examining a different serious facet of the age of the Generation Xers. As changes were happening throughout the years, not each of us were equally aware or as immersed in what was happening so I think it personally did me good to have this opportunity to read in depth about these changes.
The essay about Native Americans was gruesome and sad. The essay about date rape was truly something over which to become enraged. The essay about the author Liz’s black friend Alicia whose single mom died while she was in high school had me in tears. The letter to Frederic Lyman, teacher who for years was sexually assaulting his students but never really held accountable, was an exposure of an outrageous situation.
The essay “Change in Altitude” was the story of the author Liz and friends during a break from school and the end of her relationship with her boyfriend Leon. I liked hearing about what eventually happened to her friends later in their lives.
As a hard of hearing Baby Boomer, I never watched Beverly Hill 90210 but I enjoyed and laughed through this author’s description of the TV series and how thoroughly she tore it apart because of what it was and what it was not. Glad I missed the whole thing.
This is a very sharply-written book with so much to talk about in it. I kept having to stop reading (while I was devouring it very quickly) so I could talk to others about its contents. I’ve frequently thought about how hard it would have been for me, shy as a child, to have been born a Generation Xer as opposed to the Baby Boomer I am. I guess all ages have their advantages and disadvantages, but this book helped me understand the Generation Xers in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do in a casual conversation with them. It dealt with some hard issues that I’m not sure l'd feel comfortable discussing with young people I know.
Liz Prato is an excellent writer. In this book, she does incredibly sharp and beautiful essays about tough subjects.
I found the essay “Flights of Two” very different in tone from all other essays in this book. However just one line made me laugh out loud and love it. The line was...”The word of Robert’s disqualification spread quickly, whispered about in the bleachers and in the bathrooms and by the potato salad.”
I found the last essay the most powerful one in the book. It gave me chills as I started to read it and left me in tears. Rather than tell you what it’s about, I’ll tell you it’s title: “Falling Off Radar”. Now you go read it. Read the whole book, but leave this story for last, though.
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Somehow, after reading the blurb on the back cover, I formed an expectation that this was a broad overview of Gen X, and I was curious about how well I would fit into that overview. But after reading this book, which is a collection of essays rather than a single narrative, it was not quite what I was expecting. But that isn't a bad thing.
So, what exactly is this book? Really, it is a call to reckoning for Gen X members. It is a reflection, from the author's own experiences and those of her peers, of our attitudes about a number of issues and the influences that framed those attitudes. From race relations to sexual assault, it is disturbing to look back and realize how casually we dismissed these issues, or worse, were simply blind to their existence. I found myself cringing at the memories that surfaced while I was reading this. In particular, my personal blind spot was the sexual abuse that was occurring to some of my peers in my Catholic high school while I was there. While I was never a victim myself, I can't help wondering how I could have been so completely oblivious to what was happening to people I considered friends.
I have never fully understood the stereotypes that are commonly applied to my generation. Certainly, I never felt that they applied to my friends. But after reading this book, I do have to admit that self-absorption might well be a label that fits for me and many of my friends. We were so focused on ourselves and our "problems" that we were blind to the bigger issues around us. I can only hope that we have matured beyond that and are now more fully involved in recognizing and addressing the injustices around us.
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Some of the darkest discussions in the books deal with the sexual realities of growing up female in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. “Women had forgotten – or blocked or minimized – so many of the sexual transgressions made against us. Then came the 2016 election . . .” That chapter/essay is called Reckoning and deals with looking back on the ways in which we encountered sexual transgressions then and are forced to deal with their echoes now. I do not know a single woman who grew up in that era who doesn’t have at least one story to tell – and sadly, I think that is true for every generation. There is also a whole chapter discussing teachers who sexually abused their students. I balked at using the word “abused” in the preceding sentence because I was thinking of the incident in my own high school where the drama teacher ended up marrying my classmate within a few months of our graduation. But it was abuse and we knew it then and we said it then, although we didn’t use the word “abuse” – but we knew it was not the romantic fairy tale that some people implied in the gossip that went through the school. It was difficult to grasp the wickedness of it, though, when it was an open secret known to all of the adults and those in authority at the school and never acknowledged or addressed. Somehow that fact is an echo of the atmosphere of that entire period of my life.
The chapter entitled Scenes From My Youth encapsulates more clearly than any analysis could the messages that permeated the lives of young women when I was growing up. The echoes are still so profound and I am only in my late 40s and early 50s unlearning some of these lessons. The movies and pop culture icons were clear examples of the way it was. Rocky Balboa is physically aggressive with Adrian, who tries (and fails) to get out of the situation with the politeness we were taught was appropriate for young women. Similar scenes unfold in Meatballs, Sixteen Candles, and St. Elmo’s Fire, with true love simply being a matter of the hero imposing his sexual will on the female lead until she realizes it is what she actually wanted. I never watched any of those movies and was unaware of the repeated message. I knew of, but didn’t personally witness, when Luke and Laura became the greatest love story of a television generation, despite it all starting off with Laura being violently raped by her ‘friend’ Luke, who is ‘going through some stuff.’ (This one particularly resonated for me because I was a devoted watcher of General Hospital in December 1997 when my grandmother was brutally sexually assaulted. In February 1998, Luke and Laura’s son Lucky finds his friend Liz after she has been raped and the unfolding of that story line on GH was like group therapy for me – and the telling of the story included an attempt to come to terms with the 1979 rape of Laura by Luke and its repercussions.) The author does not address the skewed reflection of this message that I recognized from that time period – that if there was a drama series with leading male and female characters, at some point the female would be sexually attacked. See Hunter, Reasonable Doubts, J.A.G. to name 3 series that I was a fan of. Those instances, too, are echoes of the world we lived in as women. Of course, it would be helpful if these storylines were not still quite dominant in pop culture, especially pop culture marketed to women, but it will never change while the industries and interests behind pop culture are controlled by men.
I did not watch Beverly Hills 90210 as a teenager or young adult and until I read the chapter dealing with the show, I had not realized how much it had shaped the world I lived in. But I realized that I knew the names of most of the characters and the actors associated with the show and that it was in many ways an echo not of the world that existed but of the one that we were told existed and raised to believe in. “Which brings us the primary problem with 90210 and many of the issues they tried to tackle: It was a show about Gen X kids, written by late Baby Boomers, and produced by The Greatest Generation. It created a discordance between the stories they wanted to tell, the way they wanted to tell them, and who they were telling them to.” “We watched from our TV screens – something we’d been trained to do since early childhood. . . For better or worse, we’d been condition to learn through watching. But we hadn’t been taught to act.”
This book of essays also captures some of the other uglier aspects of reality that the 1980s liked to pretend never existed. Like terrorism. And drug and alcohol abuse by seemingly everyone around us. And mental illness and neurodivergence that went unrecognized and stigmatized and unaddressed. And, of course, racism. The commentary on racism captures as well as anything else the point of the book, the reckoning with the past and its implications for the future: “It was the fall of 2017 and a racism that apparently been lurking in the shadows was now walking in bright daylight. People of color weren’t as surprised as white liberals. They were like, “Yeah, we know people are unrelentingly racist, you dumb-dumbs.” White liberals were more whiplashed. We assumed that kind of racism only existed in a small number of underground niches that could be contained, like an annoying game of Whack-a-Mole where the prize for winning was a false sense of security.” In many ways I miss the sense of security of those times, but the truth is better and facing it is the best way to build the world we thought we lived in.
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