This is the story of an unnamed 14-year-old girl growing up in the farm-implement capital of the world: Zanesville, Illinois. It’s a wry observation of the folly and seriousness surrounding a middle-class life in 1970s America, which includes first flirtations and overworked mothers, the melodrama of cheerleaders and the drama of corporal punishment, telepathy with best friends and feral kitten abduction.
Many of the happenings in the book are, like adolescence, a combination of hilarity and pain, e.g., an alcoholic father who seems prone to suicide is obsessed with taming the neighbor’s wild dog. At times, you’ll laugh and then stop yourself for laughing. Candy in the form of vinyl records, cousins who stomp on doll heads, and the sequined leotards of a ninth-grade band uniform are a few of the myriad details that make Zanesville a real emotional snapshot of the era.
The characters are not caricatures. The archvillain older sister gives advice about how to dress for a date; the constantly carping mother reveals concern when our hero stops answering her friends’ phone calls; the popular girl sneaks cigarettes on the top of a toilet stall and throws marshmallows out her bedroom window. People are surprising--both good and evil--and this makes the community feel bona fide.
Our hero is no Holden Caulfield--she’s not rebellious in a serious way, nor is she surrounded by people she perceives to be phonies. She’s a good girl with a smart mouth, describing the blasé transition into adulthood with wit and mild angst. She has the deadpan, ironic delivery of a teenager who resents social acceptance yet craves it. Her teenage, self-protective aloofness is peppered by sincere expressions of tenderness, and this gives her depth and credibility.
This book will appeal to adults who remember growing up in the 70s and to teenagers who want a complicated and textured coming-of-age portrait.