This sequel to Too Close to the Falls (2001) picks up the story in 1960 with the willful, exuberant 12-year-old author entering adolescence and exiting small-town Lewiston, N.Y., for a new life in a Buffalo suburb.
A former clinical psychologist, Gildiner is also a gifted storyteller. With verve, she relates how she cleverly manipulated her way into the popular girls’ clique in high school, how she nearly burned down the doughnut shop where she worked and how her plan to paint the neighborhood lawn jockeys white went awry. She also writes about her disappointment when bad acne kept her, a talented athlete, from making the cheerleading team. In one grim episode, she and a girlfriend spied on a fraternity meeting, becoming stunned witnesses to a gang rape. In the second half of the book, the author chronicles her college years in Ohio—coping with roommates, making friends and encountering sororities, which at first she was determined to join, but which she soon characterized as bastions of a social conservatism that she abhorred. This experience and her observations of racial discrimination politicized the author. Gildiner’s summer job with a state welfare department opened her eyes to a malfunctioning system, and her romantic relationship with a somewhat elusive black poet and her work with civil rights brought her into contact with the black power movement. Disillusionment followed, and a scary brush with the FBI prompted her to accept a professor’s offer to help her get away from Ohio and into the University of Oxford. Throughout, the author examines her fraught relationship with her father, to whom she had been close as a child. It was his criticism of her flirtatious behavior with a boy that shaped her skeptical attitude toward boys throughout her high-school years and probably later still. But when her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began to lose his mind, Gildiner stepped in to protect him from himself. The author’s relationship with her mother, a superficially conforming prefeminist, seems sympathetic but somewhat unclear.Entertaining portrait of a resourceful, smart, offbeat girl and the decade of upheaval in which she came of age.