A sobering look at the power of rumor.

FAST GIRLS

TEENAGE TRIBES AND THE MYTH OF THE SLUT

An exploration of the high-school slut archetype, the conditions needed to apply the label to a particular girl, and the lasting results of being labeled in this manner.

While working at an alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle, freelance writer White placed a query asking, “Are you or were you the slut of your high school?” The response to her query was overwhelming. After interviewing more than 150 women, White discovered that the collected narratives showed distinct themes. The “slut story” did not seem to have an urban counterpart; the narrative flourished best in small-town and suburban areas. It was also a predominantly white phenomenon; stories told by African-American or Latina women followed different patterns. Focusing her research on white students, the author found several integral elements that had to be in place before a girl was so labeled. Students most likely to be designated a slut had experienced precocious puberty. She lived in a suburban setting where there wasn’t much to do. She didn’t grow up with the other students; she transferred in from another school. Many (but not all) of the girls had experienced childhood sexual abuse. (Some girls were virgins who could trace the origin of the rumor to a spurned boyfriend.) And finally, the condition of being multiracial in a predominantly white school was a strong indicator of being labeled. The sorriest aspect of White’s research shows that the girls internalize the rumors placed on them by others, and have great difficulty shedding their negative self-image. Many of the interviewees have considered suicide; some have made actual attempts. Moving away doesn’t seem to help; the author notes, “Throughout my interviews with adult women, I heard the story of the flashback: a man in a grocery store gives a grown woman a look that propels her back to high school, or the tone of a girlfriend’s voice suddenly recalls an earlier betrayal.” Being branded a “slut” during their formative years (some girls had been labeled as early as junior high, and carried the role for six years or more) has significantly damaged their prospects in life.

A sobering look at the power of rumor.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-86740-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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