Aili's Reviews > History Lesson for Girls

History Lesson for Girls by Aurelie Sheehan
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's review
Aug 27, 2007

it was ok
Read in August, 2007

One of the reviews on this book already says "this is a good coming-of-age story for girls -- especially if you grew up in Connecticut in the mid-1970s." That is probably true. That is also the problem -- if you are not into girl coming-of-age stories, or perhaps DIDN'T grow up in CT in the 1970s, you may not get a whole lot out of this.

History Lesson for Girls is somewhat emotionally engrossing, and definitely a quick, engaging read, but I found that the really dramatic topics (parents who screw up their kids; the 1970s were a crazy time; drugs are bad, mmkay?) had been covered better elsewhere -- chiefly in Running with Scissors. I think Sheehan is a better straight-up writer than Augusten Burroughs -- in terms of plot structure and ability to string sentences together -- but that Burroughs had a better tale to tell. See also the movie The Ice Storm, and there are probably lots more examples out there of The 1970s Were Some Crazy Times, Boy Howdy. For good or ill, Sheehan is telling a story that has been told before, and the addition girl friendship as a theme is not quite enough to make this an important addition to the genre (not that I am an expert).

Digression 1: For the record, I found Running with Scissors to be good but horrifying, not hilarious as the book jackets would have you believe -- it's basically a story about child abuse. Or maybe I have no sense of humor.

Digression 2: Does anyone out there remember Mustang Wild Spirit of the West by Marguerite Henry (the author of Misty of Chincoteague)? That book also featured a young, atypical heroine who had back problems (in her case due to polio, because it was the '50s, not the '70s) and discovers horses as a route to fantasy escape from her crappy life. The horse thing rings kind of hollow in History Lesson for Girls but maybe that's because I went through a serious horse phase as a kid and know what real nerdy horse stories are like.

But back to this story in general. I guess I may not have the emotional attachment that some readers do to stories of close girl friendships in their teens, and scary coming-of-age narratives about their first smoke, first unfortunate make out session at age 14, blah blah. I didn't do those things because I was a very introverted Nerd Kid who prematurely identified strongly with adults (for better or worse). And the whole point of this book is that adults are quite alien to teens of a certain age -- especially when said adults are on drugs, having marital difficulties, and generally Not Getting It. So I guess the Average American Female Reader may find quite a lot to identify with, and this book could be pretty moving. But I found that I personally didn't have much of an emotional response, and since the book is about remembrance and personal narrative, the whole thing seemed kind of stale.

Overall: Better than chick lit (I imagine -- I've never read any except for Bridget Jones, but still kind of a girly beach read. The story, though moving in places and generally engaging, just doesn't have universal appeal.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Megan (new)

Megan Can I just comment on your digression? Okay--I hated Running with Scissors, for pretty much the reasons you gave. Anyone who laughs at that book is experiencing misplaced schadenfreude.
And I found the writing almost as horrifying as the content.

Aili Word. I haven't read any of his other work. Have you? Does it get better when he's not writing about himself?

message 3: by Megan (new)

Megan I haven't read anything else, because as far as I can tell, every book he's written so far IS about himself. Which makes me hate him a little bit more.

message 4: by Robyn (new) - added it

Robyn Markow I suggest reading "Sister Golden Hair" I'm currently reading this book ,btw,& it covers the same ground but these girls have well-off families & I could just relate to the lower income bracket ones of the last book I read. P.S. I noticed in books about the 70's that you must mention Shag Carpeting & Cher at least once. (Did love Cher though)

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