Monday, September 12, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: From Jazz Babies to Generation Next: The history of the American teenager by Laura Edge

I found this overview of teenagers in history interesting, but ultimately uninspired. There is a chapter on each of the major time periods in American history beginning with the turn of the century and moving through the Jazz Age of the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the baby boomer generations, rock ‘n’ roll teens of the late 50s and early 60s, and through each of the following decades to the present day. The information is presented clearly and chronologically and the author does include some minorities, mainly African American teens.

However, there are hardly any pictures; most of the book consists of lengthy chunks of text, not even broken up by different styles or headings. A few photographs are sprinkled here and there with a few pages of additional photos at the back. I found it odd that the book used the term “teenagers” from the beginning, although the term was not widely in use until the 1940s.

The part of the book I had the most problems with were the final sections starting in the 90s and moving into the 21st century. Presumably the audience is teens; why is a detailed explanation of what texting is needed? A particularly dry one too, “Texting uses a component of cell phone service to allow users to send brief written messages.” Why are the bombings of the 90s listed as an important influence while 9/11 is mentioned only in the brief caption of a photo? In regard to the section on internet use, “Teenagers are learning to be more careful about their internet use” made me laugh. Seriously? That’s some major wishful thinking right there, especially since the sentence refers to teens learning to filter unreliable information. Of course, I don’t interact with as many teens as a teacher or school librarian, but I’ve yet to see a single teen working on homework or a report show the faintest interest in the reliability or accuracy of their information. I have a glum feeling that most teens aren’t protecting their privacy either – or recognizing the heavy role marketing and advertising plays in their online life.

Another issue I found problematic was the limited scope of the book. Granted, it is only a little over 100 pages and there’s a limit to what you can include, but... The book did mention in several places that the experiences and trends it was describing were limited mainly to white, middle-class teens or even white, middle-class, male teens. There were several sections on African American experience and civil rights. However, the later chapters did not address any other ethnicities other than a couple extremely brief references. I find it troubling that the growing Hispanic population, a large part of modern American demographics, was completely overlooked. I find this even more troubling when I note that the author graduated from the University of Texas, my own state, and one with a large Hispanic population – rapidly growing and according to some statistics outnumbering Anglos in school enrollment!

There were sections on female teens struggling for independence, Title IX etc., but not a single mention of GLBT teens and the various controversies involving them in schools. Why was it more important to include a large section on teens' struggle against dress codes and nothing on this? There was discussion of cyberbullying, but no mention of teen bullying of this demographic. It’s admittedly a small demographic but should still have at least been mentioned. (oh, my mistake, it’s mentioned twice – both in descriptions of the movie Clueless in a list of the diverse characters.)

The end matter includes a lengthy timeline, source notes, bibliography, further reading, and recommended websites, movies, and an index.

Verdict: This was a fairly interesting, quick read for me as an adult, but I can’t imagine any teen picking it up voluntarily. If your school has some kind of unit that would require a report on this topic, it would be a good report resource for a very general historical overview. Not recommended for public libraries.

ISBN: 9780761358688; Published March 2011 by Lerner; Egalley provided by publisher through NetGalley


Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review.
Apples with Many Seeds

Roberta said...

I have to admit the attractive cover of this one caught my eye.

Thank you for the honest review.

Jennifer said...

I really wanted to like it more - and it may be that the whole "teenager" thing is an issue for me, but I was just unhappy with the choices made about what to include.