Thursday, June 9, 2011
Things They Shouldn't Have Done (But Learned From)
I'm not going to lie. There are kids I know who would be immediately drawn to this title and cover, and there are also parents who would refuse to buy it. It is definitely provocative, but is that a bad thing? The story itself can be provocative, but the moral behind the surface content is important. Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski is an interesting and sometimes sad story about young women who find themselves parent-less, by choice and as a result of poor parenting.
April is surviving her parents' divorce, their new relationships, and her mother's relocation to Paris only because she got to stay with her father in Westport. In Westport are her friends, her school, and most importantly, her boyfriend Noah. When her father springs on her that they are relocating to Ohio, she is devastated. Then her friend Vi has a brilliant idea. Vi's mom is leaving town for 6 months to travel with the latest play she is a part of, so why don't Vi and April live by themselves, alone, without parents?! April knows her father will never go for it, but after a few fake email accounts (representing both Vi's mom and April's dad) and Vi occasionally using her "mom voice", the two are able to pull it off.
Now the two girls have the house to themselves, April has $1,000 a month for "rent" and expenses, and a newly acquired cat (named Donut) and hot tub (named Hula). Now, all they have to worry about is losing their virginity. April and Noah can't seem to find the right time, and Vi, a girl with clear abandonment issues, wants to make sure it is with someone with whom she has no attachments, so it doesn't get "messy" later. Unfortunately, it gets messy for both of them. April begins to see changes in Noah- he is jealous and distant at the same time, always sending her mixed signals. Vi seduces Dean, but neither can detach their feelings from one another, even when Vi encourages a freshman to go after him and pretends like she doesn't care when he starts dating the girl. While their time in the parent-less house was supposed to be fun, boys, and parties (and there are a lot of those), it also becomes a time of realization, especially painful realizations.
I think the thing I had the hardest time with the book wasn't the intimacy or the language (relatively tame), but how much I wanted to wring the necks of the parents. Vi's mom simply doesn't care about her daughter and has no problem leaving her alone for months at a time to fend for herself. April's mom is too consumed with her own life to care, and she even knows about the parent-less living situation! If my mom had found out about something like this when I was 17 years old, I wouldn't have seen the light of day until I was 30! And April's dad turns out to be the worst. While at first he seems to be caring and worries about the situation, he still lets her stay... and without ever meeting Vi's mom who he thinks is still living at home with the girls. Then when things start to fall apart, and April tells him she wants to come to Ohio, he actually tells her no! He makes up all kinds of excuses, one being the two extra bedrooms in the three bedroom house are being used for exercise equipment and as stepmom's studio. Seriously?! First of all, my parents would never have let me get into this situation, but if I had, one teary phone call and plane tickets would be booked.
This parental absence and self-absorbed ridiculousness actually makes this a very strong story. As teenagers, we always felt smothered by our parents. It felt like a police state when they wanted to know where we were, gave us curfews, and made us promise never to get in the car with anyone else. But eventually we learned this was all because they loved us and wanted to keep us safe. I think the strength of this book lies in a reader's ability to care for their parents protectiveness. I had a student recently tell me she finally realized her mom and dad didn't give her so many rules to smother her- they did it because they loved her and wanted the best for her. This realization only came after spending time with a friend whose mother never set boundaries or forced the friend to do anything. I think this book would carry the same message. I really think it would make the reader stop and think about why parents do and say what they do.
The language is average for this book, with some swearing, etc. The content can be quite mature at times, making this a better book for older high school students only. It deals a lot with intimacy, birth control, and STD's- all valuable lessons for young adults to read about, but it would be best for an older student. There is also a lot of partying, but drinking seems to be the only substance use (although they question whether one classmate is a drug dealer because he always has a lot of cash- his real job is a lot more innocuous and kind of cute). Due to the sometimes mature content, I would suggest you read this book before passing it along, unless you are sure of the maturity of the reader. It was a really good story (even though I still hate all the parents), and shouldn't be ignored just because of the maturity!