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New Books Tell Us What Girls Are Really Made Of

WILD CHILD: GIRLHOODS IN THE COUNTERCULTURE
edited by Chelsea Cain;
Seal Press, $16

Wild Child is an anthology by women raised by hippie parents. Cain attempts to understand her own experiences as the child of a flower child and how girls develop when raised outside of society. Her anthology is at once poignant, poetic and informative. Some essays celebrate and glorify while others reflect on the dark side of extreme freedom (“Free Love It Ain’t”). Many writers explore the ambivalence that results from their childhood in the counterculture: How does a woman exist int he mainstream today – live in an apartment and work a 9-to-5 job – when she grew up in a farm house, eating organic foods, centering herself through anything from meditation to marijuana? While some answers ring with hope and thanks for an extraordinary childhood, others are full of regret and cynicism.
– Naomi Goodman

GIRLS IN AMERICA
by Carol Cassidy; TV Books, $25

Following a trend in new books about girls, Carol Cassidy helped many adolescent girls tell their stories. In a refreshing twist, though, these girls are not simply depressed or self-destructive. They have complicated lives, but their outlooks remain positive. The book offers testimony from teenage mothers, beauty-pageant queens, athletes who don’t play the average sports. While this book is delightfully unpreachy, the guidance of an adult narrator is sometimes missed: when the girls display low self-esteem or indifference to careers that aren’t typically female.
– Susannah Jaffe

GIRLS: AN ANTHOLOGY
edited by Edith Chevat, Laurie Piette, Angie Argabrite; Global City Press, $14

This anthology of fiction is filled with beautiful and disturbing pieces by more than 50 writers, including Grace Paley, Maya Angelou and Tillie Olsen. The material covers a wide range of subjects, from the life of an upper-class African-American girl to a day in the life of a poor white girl. These stories paint a vivid picture of girlhood, from the yearning for lost childhood to impatience for adulthood. Here we’ve got anxiety over budding breasts, parents unsympathetic to the trials of adolescence, spankings, sexual experimentation, embarrassment over an ugly red sweater. Remember that one?
– NG

DELINQUENTS AND DEBUTANTES
edited by Sherrie Inness; New York University Press; $55, $18.50 paper

TOUGH GIRLS
by Sherrie Inness; University of Pennsylvania Press, $19.95

These books, written by academics, look at girlhood through the lens of social science and make a good counterpoint to the emotion-driven books that have flooded the market. Delinquents and Debutantes, an anthology of essays by different authors, explores how young females are socialized into “girls” on the notion that “studying girls’ culture is essential to understanding how gender works in our society.” Tough Girls, written by Inness alone, looks at “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Bionic Woman” and more current pop culture images like “Xena the Warrior Princess” to argue that these “tough girls” both challenge and reconfirm traditional gender roles.
– NG

BOOMER GIRLS: POEMS BY WOMEN FROM THE BABY BOOM GENERATION
edited by Pamela Gemin and Paula Sergi; University of Iowa Press, $44.95, $15.95 paper

This book includes thoughtful, humorous, and haunting poetry by women of the baby boom generation. The talented poets featured in Boomer Girls write so eloquently about their coming of age in the ’60s and ’70s that anyone, even a Gen X-er, can empathize. Poems are organized into some creative “boomer” categories: “The Age of Unlimited Possibilities,” “Above the Chains of Flesh and Time,” and do include some Jewish elements.
– NG

GIRLS SPEAK OUT: FINDING YOUR TRUE SELF
by Andrea Johnston, with an introduction by Gloria Steinem; Scholastic Press, $17.95

Girls Speak Out started as a group to provide a safe space for girls, 9-15, to discuss their ideas and emotions. Headed by Andrea Johnston and Gloria Steinem, the Girls Speak Out program has become a grassroots movement across the country. While describing how girls and women from different cultures and economic backgrounds came together to discuss being female, Johnston also invites her readers to participate in these same activities: have a group of girls discuss their feelings about being female in a talk show format; share photos of ancient artifacts of women and ask girls to write from the point of view of the artifact.
– NG

THE BUST GUIDE TO THE NEW GIRL ORDER
edited by Marcelle Karp and Debbie Stoller; Penguin Putnam Inc., $15.95

The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order is a collection of articles published in Bust, a feminist answer to Glamour and Mademoiselle. Some essays you might want to share with a daughter, younger sister, or any girl who experiences the agony of exclusion from the “in” crowd. Other essays are interesting, but R-rated. (One details the quest for the perfect vibrator.) Some selections explain a history of sex and feminism while others are nothing more than man-bashing. Ranging from thoughtful to frivolous, powerful to meaningless, The Bust Guide is at the very least an entertaining read, and several writes make reference to their Jewish backgrounds.
– NG

STICK UP FOR YOURSELF: EVERY KID’S GUIDE TO PERSONAL POWER AND POSITIVE SELF-ESTEEM
by Gershen Kaufman, Lev Raphael and Pamela Espeland; Free Spirit, $14.95

TOO OLD FOR THIS, TOO YOUNG FOR THAT! YOUR SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE MIDDLE SCHOOL YEARS
by Harriet S. Mosatche and Karen Unger; Free Spirit, $14.95

Tow new books by Free Spirit Publishing look at the difficult time of adolescence with encouraging suggestions for those muddling through. Stick Up for Yourself posits that self-esteem comes from recognizing one’s power and achieving one’s goals. And, using real-kid quotes, quizzes, charts and cartoons, Too Old for This… explores the multitude of physical and emotional changes that middle school kids – “tweens” – encounter: from managing the mortifications of getting your period (or not) to coping with braces or changing for gym.
– Lilith staff

EVERYDAY WAYS TO RAISE SMART STRONG CONFIDENT GIRLS: SUCCESSFUL TEENS TELL US WHAT WORKS
by Barbara Littman; St. Martin’s Press, $12.95

Everyday Ways is a useful albeit somewhat dry book. While it offers practical suggestions – “treat the women in your life right,” “discourage your daughter from dieting” – it lacks insight and inspiration. It is clearly not geared toward a multi-religious audience: “Go to church together” is one piece of advice. A redeeming factor is the bibliography and listing of web sites and resources for and about girls.
– NG

GIRLS SEEN AND HEARD: 52 LIFE LESSONS FOR OUR DAUGHTERS
by the Ms. Foundation for Women and Sondra Forsyth; Penguin Putnam, Inc., $11.95

These 52 excellent short chapters are aimed at parents, each explaining a suggestion to help a daughter live a healthy life. One of the best chapters, “You Are Some Body!,” advises taking your daughter to art museums and showing her paintings of women (such as those done by Rubens), which demonstrate that being five foot ten and 120 pounds is not the only way to be beautiful. Each chapter concludes with an activity for girls to do on their own and a list of resources for both parent and child.
– NG

WHEN YOUR CHILD HAS AN EATING DISORDER
by Abigail H. Natenshon; Jossey-Bass Publishers, $22

I have a friend who revealed to me that, in the midst of her eating disorder, she read books on the subject to pick up tips and be motivated by the girls whose stories the book chronicled. When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder is an antidote to the two most dangerous and prevalent attitudes the media offers on eating disorders: glamorization and a morbid fascination. It is an extraordinary workbook for caregivers of children in their preteens through college years. Natenshon leads us through the important steps of realization and education, opening lines of communications and seeking professional help, and working through the recovery process. Perhaps the most important lesson Natenshon teaches is for parents to focus on the needs of the child rather than on guilt or blame.
– NG

COOL CAREERS FOR GIRLS SERIES
by Ceel Pasternak and Linda Thornburg; Impact Publications, $12.95

How to turn daydreams into reality? A series of easy-to-read books, “Cool Careers for Girls in…” are great introductions to various careers, especially those where female role models may be hard to find: engineering, sports, computers, construction. There are also books on the performing arts, food, health, animals. Each lively and illustrated book, geared for middle school girls, offers profiles of ten women who love their work, and advice on how to find out more information about he field. Girls will also get guidance on what skills and personality traits might be needed for this path, what they need to study to get these jobs and how these women balance their home and work lives.
– Lilith staff

GIRLS KNOW BEST: ADVICE FOR GIRLS FROM GIRLS ON JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING
compiled by Michelle Roehm; Beyond Words Publishing, $8.95

Girls Know Best is an upbeat book by girls, 6-16, that tackles a multitude of issues: having a crush, getting along with siblings, being a good babysitter, coping with a divorce. Girls Know Best offers advice to girls about the everyday traumas that their parents – at a distance of many years – may no longer remember (for example, the shame of having no-one to sit with at lunch time). What may be even more inspirational to the young reader than the writings themselves is that hey were written by girls just like her.
– NG

OPHELIA SPEAKS
edited by Sara Shandler; HarperPerennial, $12.95

I like the idea of this book: Young women and girls speaking out in their own voices. With its echo of Reviving Ophelia and its photogenic college-age editor Sara Shandler, the book quickly became a best-seller. [For an author interview, see LILITH, Fall 1999] The stories, sent in by girls across the country, cover eating disorders, break-ups, suicide. Recollections and thoughtful reflections of the author begin each themed chapter. Unfortunately, the actual text periodically melts into cliché and generalization.
– NG

OUR LAST BEST SHOT: GUIDING OUR CHILDREN THROUGH EARLY ADOLESCENCE
by Laura Sessions Stepp; Riverhead Books, $24.95

Stepp’s book gives in-depth portraits of 12 families to help understand how parents can guide adolescents safely and happily through this difficult period. Stepp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, has tried to represent diverse geographic, economic and racial backgrounds, as well as a range of personalities – the boy with low self-esteem who finds his place in sports; the Israeli girl prone to peer pressure who ended up counseling her friends away from dangerous behavior; the “good” kid who got caught with a gun.
– SJ

GIRLS ON THE VERGE
by Vendela Bida; St. Martin’s Press, $19.95

Vida examines coming-of-age rites observed by American young women. The first part of her book focuses on family-approved rituals: becoming a sorority sister, quinceaneras (a Hispanic tradition to mark a girls’ 15th birthday), and debutante balls. She dedicates the second half to rituals that girls undertake on their own: joining a gang, entering a coven, or marrying young. To get deeper into her subject, Vida goes undercover as “Katie Wintersen,” a transfer student from Columbia, and rushes a sorority at UCLA. Vida’s captivating descriptions make Girls on the Verge effortless to read. My only disappointments: Vida’s condescension toward her young subjects sometimes worms its way into her compassionate portraits; and she fails to mention the bat mitzvah.
– NG

Naomi Goodman is a sophomore at Brandeis University; Susannah Jaffe is a sophomore at Barnard College.