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ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Childhood Mental Disorders and Illnesses
Parenting
Child Development and Parenting: Infants
Child Development and Parenting: Early Childhood

by Carolyn Jones
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 27th 2002

Every Girl Tells a Story

This is a nicely produced book with color and black and white photographs and short self-descriptions of eighty-five girls talking about what they have accomplished or endured in their lives.  It aims to be an uplifting enterprise and it is crammed full of earnest good intentions.  The girls range in age from 11 to 18; they are of various ethnicities and colors, and they chose to wear all sorts of different clothes.  Lauren, 17, is in a tutu and ballet shoes; Tamika, 15, is in a pink top and blue jeans; Stephanie, 16, is in a riding hat and riding boots; Angel, 13, is in Native American inspired costume; Antoinette, 14, is in her baseball gear.  Erica, 16, works on her community garden; Pam, 14, talks to her friends; Amy, 13, does ballet; Julie, 15, was adopted from South Korea; Kim, 13, was born without her right forearm; Christine, 16, is against racism; Jessica, 17, works at a community center for abused women and their families.

I’m sure that there’s some truth to the claims of books such as Reviving Ophelia, that today’s girls experience all sorts of stresses and pressures, and grow up in a culture that places far too much emphasis on physical attractiveness and unrealistic ideal of beauty; talking with women about their experience has led me to believe that rape and harassment are major problems in our culture.  It seems a good idea to help girls to feel more confident and to be able to assert themselves.  I imagine that some preteens might read through this book and find it interesting and even inspiring. 

But when I think back to my own adolescent self, when I was even more cynical than I am now, and imagine what I might have thought had I been presented with a book about the positive accomplishments of boys, I am pretty sure that I would have been extremely unimpressed, and indeed, I expect I would have scoffed at it.  If someone were to put together a book of the accomplishments of college professors, I might well find it riveting reading, but I’m not sure that I would find it very inspirational.  I’m pretty sure that it would take more than a book listing the accomplishments of others to make me feel confident about my own abilities.  So, on the assumption that teenage girls are not significantly more credulous than myself, I’m very doubtful that a book like this can actually be helpful to anyone. 

To put my point a little more sharply, I find it hard to believe that this kind of “feel-good” propaganda would make the slightest difference in self-confidence to anyone with a mental age greater than twelve.  I may be wrong, of course, after all, it’s been two decades since I was a teen.  But then, I don’t think that young people have become any less cynical about the way they are fed messages in the last twenty years – indeed, with all the TV they watch, they are sophisticated interpreters of cultural imagery.  Of course, the motives behind Every Girl Tells a Story are good, but I imagine that most of the girls who might read it will see it as irrelevant to their lives.  My doubt about books such as this may be fueled more by an aesthetic revulsion than evidence; when I see “inspirational” vignettes about people’s accomplishments on shows like Oprah, all I see is a highly simplistic promotion of role models.  I hope that young people are not so simple that they will be easily convinced of ideas promoted only by a pretty picture and some well-chosen words, no matter how well intentioned they are.  Recommended only to readers under 12.

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.