Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: Teenage Romance

(Blogspot's scheduling feature isn't always perfect. This post should appear at exactly 9 a.m. EDT on June 7, 2016. If you're seeing it sooner, tsk, tsk, what a pity.)

A Fair Trade Book

teenage romance

Title: Teenage Romance

Author: Delia Ephron

Author's web page: http://deliaephronwriter.com/

Date: 1981

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 0-670-69503-3

Length: 109 pages

Illustrations: drawings by Edward Koren

Quote: "Dance fast. Make everyone stop dancing and listen to the next song on the album. Point out the dirty words in the lyrics. Call up a teacher on the telephone and hang up when he answers."

This is a very, very funny book and yet, somehow, its humorous effect falls short of the richness of How to Eat Like a Child.

Not that that's a valid reason not to buy it. How to Eat Like a Child was a classic. Nobody could have written another book like it. Ephron is still a very funny, very observant writer, and her other books are worth reading; they're just...not...How to Eat Like a Child.

The first time I read Teenage Romance I just felt disappointed. Then I went back and read it again, and yes, it was funny. Then I sat down to analyze: Why was it less delightful than How to Eat Like a Child? (Raunchy language, yes, always in the context of kids being fascinated with raunchy language, looking up body parts in reference books and screeching with laughter about what words rhyme with and so on. How to Eat Like a Child contained raunchy language in that context too; not "Swear, like your Dad" but "Say ****, like your Dad.")

I think the answer is that, while Ephron wrote both books in the same style, the teenagers she was observing were city kids. (It's less obvious that the younger children in the book that made her famous are also city kids.) When I first read Teenage Romance my own high school memories were very fresh (I was in high school when I read How to Eat Like a Child). Some of the teen scenes Ephron describes were just like things I had done, known people who did, was still doing.

"If pimple is on forehead, wear bangs...If pimple is on upper lip, assume a pensive pose: Arm is bent at elbow, hand rests against chin..."

"CHANGING. Do not let anyone see you naked: Face the wall and put top...on over shirt--just slip it over your head, but do not put arms in sleeves. Unbutton shirt..."

"'I've asked you to watch your language!' 'Who do you think I learned it from?'"

"'What? What did you say?' 'She said last name first.' 'What?' 'Could I start over? I made a mistake.' 'Do we use pen or pencil?' 'I said I don't care. Use whatever you want.' 'I forgot my last name.'"

"Smile and say, 'Hi.' He says hi back...Smile and say, 'Bye.' He is so cute!...There's a piece of apple between your two front teeth."

And then...and then...but...none of Ephron's teenagers seem to do any of the more interesting things my friends and I were doing. Well, not a lot of teenagers ever reported being offered a baby-sitting job and were told, "That's fine! Now you're not going to work in that house alone, so you tell them that you and your brother are a team. If they want you, they'll hire him too." Ephron's teenagers wouldn't have had to deal with my kind of parents. Nor with my kind of baby-sitting job. (The two of us, and my natural sister who was the same age as the middle child we were baby-sitting, stayed with these children until their parents got home, then went home to dinner. So we were cooking dinner one afternoon, and the children came to our door, all scared and out of breath, to report, "Grandma's house is on fire." Back then the county had a fire engine, but it wouldn't pump water from a spring...so we fought that fire.) But none of the characters in this book seems to think about doing, or even training for, any job at all.

Many of the things they do seemed unthinkably wasteful, stupid, and vulgar to me as a teenager. None of the parents I knew were so indulgent. Kids did shoot rubber bands (picking them up later), but... "Break pencils with one hand. Light a match with one hand while the match is still attached to the pack...Prick holes in the bottoms of Dixie cups...Put little 'take-out' packages of mustard and catsup on the sidewalk and step on them"?

Teenagers I knew did talk back to (some of the more inept) teachers the way the kids do in the chapter about social studies class, but...parents? "'Who are you going with?' 'A friend.' 'Which friend?' 'Mom, just a friend, okay? Do you have to know everything?'" Any parent of any kid I knew would have said, "You're not going." End of discussion. The parents of a few kids I knew would have hit them. If kids I knew wanted to go out with friends, we said, "Can you...is it all right with your parents?" Exceptions did occur among kids who knew each other and each other's parents well, who had a sort of standing permission to "hang out" together after school. I don't think the majority of kids were on that sort of terms with anybody, and if they were it was only a next-door neighbor or a cousin. Kids "hung out" at home, at school, and sometimes those who were in some after-school social clubs were allowed to "hang out" at one specific store in town--what a thrill.

Ephron's teenagers don't have hobbies, they don't have pets, they hardly noticeably have grandparents, and they're certainly not mature enough to baby-sit. What do they do? They talk trash, waste their parents' money, annoy their teachers, and think Unclean Thoughts.

It occurs to me now that one use of Teenage Romance might be to determine whether parents have succeeded in raising a wholesome teenager. I don't mean that wholesome teenagers don't talk back and think Unclean Thoughts; we did, and the younger set do. I mean that wholesome teenagers are likely to react to this book like, "It's funny, sort of, but it's about sort of boring teenagers."

I mean that teenagers who have household chores, baby-sitting jobs, construction jobs, and other projects going on probably even have fewer pimples than the ones in this book. I mean that when I read back through those one-page or half-a-page-a-day "diaries" I used to keep, I do recognize some cryptic coded expressions that went with the thought "He is so cute." But while logging things like "Brought in 55 gallons maple sap, baked bread, took loaves to elders A and B, found 92 aluminum cans along the road, watched demonstration to learn how to graft apple twigs onto trees but weren't allowed to graft any," I didn't find a tremendous lot of time for "He is so cute." I didn't find any time for pursuits like "break pencils" at all.

Anyway, whatever your percentage of nostalgic laughs versus supercilious laughs may be, this is a book over which you'll laugh. To buy it here, send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address at the bottom of the screen. From this total of $10 we'll send $1 to Ephron or a charity of her choice. If you order six copies in one package, you pay $35 and Ephron or her charity gets $6.