Teen Read Week: Girls Talking
    by Fiona Barnes (reader)

Some "girls" may "just want to have fun," but a lot of teenage girls are more contemplative and articulate and poetic than the Go-Go's pop anthem might make them out to be. In her new collection of poetry written by teenage girls, Things I Have to Tell You, Betsy Franco has tapped into this amazing, creative, feminine energy. These girls certainly haven't "lost their voices," -- one of the common plights of teenage girls that Mary Pipher ("Pie - fur") called attention to in her landmark study of female adolescence, Reviving Ophelia. Quite the contrary: the girls in Things I Have to Tell You are struggling -- with body image, peer pressure, drugs, sexuality, the rush of conflicting feelings and the sudden recognitions that shake them to the core -- and they write about these subjects with breathtaking candor and supple strength. Here's Jessie Childress, 16, describing the "New Honesty" she's discovered:

Like a plastic ball,
I toss between myself
and the various identites
I have been assigned.
Look out -- I fell in the mud.
Look out -- I opened my mouth,
and out came ideas
you don't think are pretty.
I suppose it would be scary
to be a ventriloquist who foud out
her dummy could talk,
to find the doll had a brain
and opinions that will bite
when provoked
. . .
I'm sorry to tell you
that I'm not sorry anymore.
I can only run for so long
and so far.
I'm done,
and I'm throwing up my Truth
like a marathon runner
at the end
of a 16-year race.

And there is playful sense of humor, too, in a number of these verses. One young writer wonders if her fate, the very course of her life, would be different if she hadn't had a bad hair day and the boy she was interested in turned away. These are poignant, brave, generous-spirited poems. They are also soul songs, that aspire to the highest possibilities for poetry. As Jessie Childress writes in another poem:
I want this song
to save the girl I don't know.
I want this song
to save myself.

Copyright 2001 by John Cech

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Tuesday, 12-Jul-2005 14:54:43 EDT

"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for the Study of Children's Literature and Media and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."