Book Review by Zinta Aistars
• Paperback: 128 pages
• Publisher: Enchanted Self Press (April 2, 2010)
• Price: $8.95
• ISBN-10: 0979895219
• ISBN-13: 978-0979895210
What little girl doesn’t love opening a diary, one of those puffy books with a little metal lock on it with a tiny key on a ribbon? Many of us had them. I did. I still have mine somewhere, I’m sure, filled with nonsense about what I ate that day, how much I hated the new dress Mama made me wear to school, and with long, deep, philosophical conversations between me and my cat carefully transcribed, complete with the feline’s responses. It’s a girl thing, I think, and psychologist Barbara Becker Holstein has done a fun job of quite accurately capturing that girlishness.
The slim book, written for girls age 9 to 12, with questions for discussion at back, is written with a font that resembles handwriting to add to the effect of reading a diary. Dear Diary, begins each entry, and the writer of the diary is a 13-year old girl who remains nameless as she narrates her life, filled with delicious secrets. None of these secrets are the sort to give parents shivers. They are the typical fare of many tweens, about first crushes on boys, shopping for training bras (I agree with the girl: I never understood this odd concept of “training” either), moving to a new house, making new friends and outgrowing old ones, coping with a new baby in the household, encountering a family death for the first time, and other such.
I wondered as I read, however … is this really the mind of a current-day average 13-year old girl? Oh, I hope it is, but it little resembles me at 13, nor my daughter at 13, nor my nieces at that age. It reminded me more of the 9- or 10-year old, because each year at that stage can be quite dramatic in its changes, physically and emotionally. One likes to think of such innocence at 13, but with today’s fast forward adolescence, I wonder if this book isn’t off by a couple years or so. Statistics show that the average age today of losing one’s virginity is 14 and falling. Puberty, perhaps sped up by various pollutants (I’ve read about toxic components in plastics, in lotions, in water, and so on, that wreak havoc on hormonal imbalances), is starting earlier than it used to. Scientists don’t seem to yet know exactly why, but articles abound on the topic. The average age of exposure to pornography online, according to some studies, is age 9 (parents: take note). Indeed, in Secrets, there is no mention of modern technology in this girl’s life, even while we look around us to see 13-year-olds with cell phones glued to their ears and iPods drumming the beat through earphones.
Realism aside, a possible miss of age group left up for debate, the book is fun. The girl’s mind travels in ways surely many of us recognize from our childhoods. Her moments of anxiety, quickly countered by her moments of sheer joy for seemingly trivial reasons, her attachments to sentimental objects such as her locket, which keeps getting lost and refound again, putting her through spasms of worry—all the stuff of American girlhood. We recognize the pleasure of connecting with an adult who will take the time to talk to you, really talk to you, and listen, as her aunt does. We recognize the warmth and comfort of young gal pals, sharing silly secrets, and the importance of those first bonds. We recognize, those of us who are so lucky, those connecting moments with our mothers, too, when we find ourselves on the same frequency perhaps for the first time as maturity begins to take hold.
There is, too, that teenage angst for American girls who wonder if they look right. Bombarded with false and heavily manipulated images in magazines, television and movies as we are in this society, one wonders how a young and growing girl cannot sink into despair at what is, actually, her normal self. The author does here a good service, surely, in giving a young reader comfort in knowing this angst is quite normal today:
“Why do I hate to look at myself in the mirror sometimes? I used to love to look at myself. I even played dress-up in front of it. Now I feel so rotten when I look at myself. I see everything. I see too many freckles on my face. I see my teeth looking back at me, not pearly white but slightly yellow with a space between the front teeth that looks larger every time I examine it. I see big ears even though my mother said I don’t have big ears. And I see fat on my body. Baby fat is not cute at 13.” (Page 60)
A first crush unfolds, and we read the girl gush about love, big and dramatic, one moment for one boy, the next for another, then back again. All part of growing up. The girl goes on and on to her mother about the boy named Rob as the two share regular dinners at a favorite restaurant. Each time she does so, the older male waiter stands by and waits and listens (eavesdrops?), which did leave me puzzled. What waiter does that? A lurking waiter will get nabbed in the tip, I would think, but I won’t go on to spoil the twist in the story with this waiter, only say that the twist left me even more puzzled. One hopes the author will make this seemingly pointless interlude become meaningful in the next book in this series (Secrets is the second book in what is called “A Truth Series Book”), because in this one it merely frustrates.
Secrets can be a valuable book for young girls, more 9 than 12, quickly read, quickly absorbed, sending its message of positivity. In a rough and tumble world, where it is not easy at all to be young, this “diary” can offer comfort and reassurance that change is normal, that discomfort can quickly enough turn into comfort, and that family bonds are always valuable for growing up with good grounding.
Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein, internationally known Positive Psychologist, is the creator of The Enchanted Self, a systematic way of helping to bring more joy, meaning and purpose into our lives. Dr. Holstein has been a school psychologist for more than twenty five years. She has taught elementary school children and was an assistant professor of education at Boston University. She has been in private practice as a psychologist with her husband, Dr. Russell M. Holstein, in Long Branch, New Jersey, for over twenty five years.
~Zinta Aistars for The Smoking Poet