It’s hard enough to find time to read a book, so who could possibly find the time to read one again? And why? It’s a good argument. But for those of us old enough to have considered Judy Blume’s Forever as the most embarrassing and provocative novel of our time, reading these YA books over again might be a much-needed trip down memory lane – especially if you’re a parent. I have three tween/teen daughters who confuse me. Is it me that’s so irrational, or is it their not yet fully formed brains? I decided to investigate the matter using these five books:
GIRL, INTERRUPTED by Susanna Kaysen
Besides being one of the best titles of all-time (that’s a comma to rival one of Hemingway’s best) Girl, Interrupted was also one of the first glimpses into the world of mental illness. Known for housing James Taylor and Ray Charles, McLean Hospital was a too close for comfort real life Miss Scarlet in the dining room with the candlestick mystery house. Or in other words: Cree-py. After a normal morning session with her new psychiatrist, Kaysen is without warning placed into a taxi and shipped off to McLean for two years. Here, she will witness both frightening insanity and mesmerizing insights into the human psyche. What is most astonishing about this memoir is that decades later, Kaysen’s narrative still feels contemporary. Crazy people, when you get right down to it, aren’t really all that different from you and me (okay, well maybe just me).
THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath
As Ricardo Montalbam used to say on Fantasy Island, “Smiles Everyone!” and as we so cleverly added in the 80s to denote the opposite meaning of something, “Smiles Everyone – not.” This book is that. Not fun. So why go back to it? First, it’s really great writing. Prose, actually. Sylvia Plath may have had a few screws loose, but she writes smart. And that’s the paradox, of course. So after setting your GPS to Dark-ville, making a right at Electric Shock Therapy and a quick left at Blank Stare, your trip into McLean Hospital might just make you feel a bit better about your day. And if it doesn’t, then at least you know you’ve got a friend in James Taylor.
THIS BOY’S LIFE by Tobias Wolff