December 12, 2005

Girls' Issues, Historic and Contemporary

Nell's Quilt by Susan Terris was one of those random library finds that appeared on the display shelf and caught my eye. A historical piece set at the turn of the century, the story follows eighteen-year-old Nell as she reluctantly agrees to marry a young widower with a small child. As her dreams of college melt away, and her guilt grows at being a burden to her parents in their hardscrabble farm life, she sinks deeper and deeper into depression until even she hardly recognizes herself. The only thing that sparks any interest in her, any life, is the ever-growing crazy quilt she is piecing together, with squares representing everyone and everything important to her.

Though I was a bit turned off by certain elements that struck me as anachronistic, the story did hold my interest. Nell's descent into anorexia and obsessive-compulsive behavior, her depression, were vividly written. I did question whether it was accurate to transport psychological problems which seem to me to be very much associated with modern-day life and media influence, into a historical time period. That's not to say that there weren't young women suffering similar disorders in 1899, and I certainly don't have the detailed knowledge of history to critique the issue properly. It just struck me as odd from time to time. But it was an interesting premise nonetheless, and the book was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. If you like historical pieces, this might interest you.

If you're more into contemporary young women's stories, then I highly recommend Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen. After learning that a different book of hers was one of YALSA's Teens' Top Ten--and after enjoying one of her short stories in the anthology Sixteen--I decided to check out this stand-alone piece about outcast Colie, whose mother is a world-famous fitness guru.

Colie leaves to spend the summer in a tiny beach town with her eccentric aunt, hoping to escape her mother's exuberant fame and the rumors of skankitude that dog her at school. She doesn't expect much out of the summer, but she ends up working at a diner and meeting waitresses Morgan and Isabel, unlikely best friends who take her under their wing. Colie also meets Norman, a college art student who lives in her aunt's basement and is a cook at the diner. The well-drawn cast of characters challenges Colie's view of how the world works, as she discovers that everyone has their own obstacles in life to overcome and their own ways of overcoming them. She finds friendship, wisdom, and strength in unexpected places in this quiet, vivid, funny, and surprisingly deep story.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I loved 'Keeping the Moon,' but I read it awhile back, and should look at it again. But -- weird! -- anorexia in the 1800's? I'm not feeling that much at all, especially on the frontier where the obsession with corsets, etc., would naturally be eased, but I will definitely check that out. I can't imagine the author would have waded into that without some kind of basis... hm.

Anonymous said...

I just finished 'Keeping the Moon' again and re-remembered why I loved it so well -- Norman. The guy with the hippie hair and the Dead albums who did weird art. I know somebody like that. :)

Plus, I think we all wanted someone like Isabel in our lives -- that acidic, actinic light of the truth-teller to make us cut the crap and do better for ourselves. Also, women's friendships, when they verge on sisterhood like that, are very attractive.

The one thing Dessen could have done better was make clear how much older Morgan and Isabel were than Colie, but other than that, the characterizations were really excellent. It was nice to read that again.