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by Sydney Lewis

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-56584-282-0
Publisher: The New Press

An oral history of teens based on 60 interviews presenting a cross-section of the American cultural, economic, racial, and social spectrum. Oral historian Lewis (Hospital: An Oral History of Cook County Hospital, 1995) makes an admirable effort to present an all- encompassing portrait of contemporary teens, but an overly ambitious agenda results in an ultimately unsatisfying book. What's most interesting—despite the overall plodding tone of the monologues—is the disturbing image of America in the '90s that's projected here. Drugs are everywhere. Not just for ten-year-olds in inner-city projects, but even in integrated suburban public schools, ``drugs are just full frontal in your face every day.'' Violence is also common in the lives of too many teens. Thirteen- year-old Manhattanite Melissa Tates recalls looking out of her window and seeing ``this lady walking with her baby carriage, and the bullet went right by her head.'' Melissa's nights are often disturbed by the sound of gunshots. And despite growing up with the threat of AIDS, many of the young people here speak quite casually about sex. Seventeen-year-old Jian Berry talks about her friends who ``get caught up in the moment . . . don't use condoms . . . and it's incredibly scary.'' Touched by such parental problems as mental illness, divorce, and economic instability, Lewis's subjects—some already raising their own children—have much to contend with. Yet most of these teens display enough resilience to give pep talks to their faltering parents, to remind their mothers to take their medication, and to serve as role models for their younger siblings. Some alarming material, ill-digested. Despite arresting or moving moments, this oral history would have benefitted by having a sharper focus, with fewer subjects and less of the consequent repetition. ($35,000 ad/promo)