GROUND RULES by Sherril Jaffe


What I Learned My Daughter's Fifteenth Year
Email this review


 An unsatisfying account of a mother's horrendous year spent trying to cope with a 14-year-old daughter's machinations. Novelist Jaffe (The Unexamined Wife, not reviewed) attempts to make some kind of sense out of her adolescent daughter's manipulative and self-destructive behavior. Despite the author's attempt to present them in a humorous light, Rebekah's hurtful actions are far from amusing. We might smile at the thought of a rebellious daughter of a respected Conservative rabbi dying her hair purple, but Rebekah's exploits more often elicit shudders of horror. We wonder why the child of two loving parents would steal from them, lie to them, shoplift, disappear for days on end, and fail in school. This is not run-of-the-mill teen rebelliousness, and Jaffe provides too few clues into the underlying causes of her daughter's behavior. Jaffe's attempts to cope with Rebekah include shuttling her from one therapist to another, talking out strategies with parents of other troublesome teens, and alternating between trying to set limits and showering her daughter with unconditional love. The measures often seem unfocused and the results are unproductive. Only toward the end of this memoir does Rebekah emerge as anything more than a one-dimensional insurgent, and only then does the author appear to be something more than a caricature of a totally helpless and inept parent. Jaffe finally concedes that she has some work to do after speaking to her daughter's seventh therapist (in one year). ``Fifteen years have passed, but it is not too late. I could still get to know [Rebekah]. I could learn to listen to her,'' she writes. Exasperated by this obtuse narrative, readers can only hope that seeing her story in print doesn't consign Rebekah to many more years of therapy.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-56836-172-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997