Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Divorce Girl and a Give Away

I always loved sharing YA novels with my students, but during the last couple of years at school, the trend was for more vampire and werewolves. Not my thing, but the students went for them. I always liked historical or contemporary novels. Even those changed some in that they became very representative and harshly detailed of real life. I continued to read YAs after retiring but gradually faded away from the category. Now two new YA novels have drawn me back with Bill Cairns Into the Hornets’ Nest (  ) and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s The Divorce Girl.

The Divorce Girl is Mirriam-Goldberg’s first YA novel but certainly not her first book. She has published a memoir on dealing with cancer and several poetry books. She happens to be the present Poet Laureate of Kansas, and she teaches at Goddard College.  So Mirriam-Goldberg does know how to write. Her figurative language is sharp and original. For example, “rare as rainbows in the house”, “turned fields as beige as housing developments”, and a description of a Cadillac described as “a white steamship of a car” helps the reader visualize Deborah Shapiro’s world.

The novel begins as Deborah’s 1970 urban world collapses. Divorce rocks her world and is unusual in that her parents try living in the same house so she is continually thrust into taking sides in a small war. The father is unscrupulous with emotional bribes to gain his oldest daughter’s loyalty. He uses flattery, privileges, and feigns special love for her. Deborah understandably takes the bait and turns on her own mother. Eventually, father and daughter move out together after going to court and with a judge’s approval. It is then that more emotional confusion results forDeborah as she begins to see her father as he really is-not a particularly nice guy!

With hatred for her mother, disappointment in her dad, what is Deborah to do? She exists. She throws herself into her hobby of photography using her camera to capture her world at every turn. She joins a photography group, meets some radical people, and watches her dad move thorough women. Her camera becomes a type of buffer between the world and herself as Deborah tries to makes sense of what the camera sees in her own life.

While both parents are hard to appreciate with their sad behavior, Deborah is a likeable character. She is saucy and curious, often sad, angry or both. Like many a child of divorce, often she questions if she has done something wrong to cause all the problems in her family. In her world where the adults use her as a pawn in their own lives, Deborah somehow manages to be herself, to hang on to the spunk and plucky determination necessary to survive the tortuous world that adults around her have created.

Because I am an adult reader, I saw the parents’ sometimes psychotic behavior and understood how life might drive individuals to extreme. But a young reader would see only the chaos that came when parents revealed human imperfections and desperation to control their crumbling world. The world of divorce is a painful one and Shapiro experiences all the pain that many young readers will be able to identify with in the story. Both the language and story details are realistic and not always easy to hear. But the heroine does walk through fire to the other side showing young readers and victims of divorce that it can be done.

The 1970’s will be a trip to a new world for young readers; it will be a revisit to the past for older readers. Goldberg tosses in leisure suits, avocado kitchens, denim with multiple zippers, macramé purses (which she charmingly calls a pocketbook!), scenes of the Partridge Family, and 8 track tapes among other retro items for a brush with 1970 memories.

Beneath Deborah Shapiro’s gutsy language and struggles is something for young readers facing the same situation. The Divorce Girl would make a good book for discussion between young girls who are facing the ripping sensations of divorce and their parents or counselors.

For a chance to win a copy of The Divorce Girl by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, leave a comment below. Drawing on Friday, August 10th


Susan said...

Hi Bookie...Well, it sounds like an interesting book but I don't usually read too much fiction. Sad but true. Thanks for the review, though. I enjoyed reading it.

Also, thanks SO MUCH for your many visits and comments to my blog. I love it when I see you stopped by. Susan

Joy Keeney said...

Looks like a good read!

Lynn said...

Yet some more books I'll put on my reading list - how will I ever read them all? Thanks for sharing!