Is anything about a teen’s life not TANGLED?

Is there an experience out there more intimate than reading?  Sure, television and movies can give you more detail, but the connection between you and the characters is sometimes lost by the guy chewing popcorn next to you or your toddler throwing things at the screen.  So I like to stick with books.  With books, it’s just me and the words, and with a good book, after a few paragraphs, it’s just me and the language in my head, which in the end, is really just me.  And there’s nothing more intimate than that.

Title: tangled
Author: Carolyn Mackler
: Realistic Fiction
Age: Upper Middle School and High School, 12 and up

Summary and Review:

Carolyn Mackler’s tangled is one of those intimate reading experiences.  There are four main characters.  A slightly awkward, half-Jewish girl, a definitely not awkward tall blond young actress, a so-awkward-his-parents-put-him-in-a-camp-that-teaches-social-skills guy, and that same guy’s very non-awkward football-playing older brother.

These teens go through everything (well, except school, there’s not a lot of that).  There is the death of a girlfriend, family break-ups, first sexual encounters (nothing crazy, just some touching in case you worry about that kind of thing), serious depression and suicidal thoughts, and first crushes.  Through it all, they are completely misunderstood by their parents, each other, and perhaps most importantly, themselves.

The story is told in four parts, with each one narrating his or her part from his or her point of view.  Sometimes, they are telling about the same time period and you get a better understanding of what actually happened when you see what two different people thought about it.  Sometimes, they move the story forward in time, talking about events entirely their own.  Always, they tell the story with their own believable, unique voices.  You would have thought that Carolyn Mackler just got out of high school herself with how accurately she seems to portray their thoughts, desires, and fears.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

So, if you are so inclined, you can talk about the physical parts.  There’s a great lesson in this book because one of the characters falls for a hot boy, only to realize she really doesn’t want to be fooling around with him (he puts his hand down her shirt and she doesn’t like it).  Later, she finds love in her own way and in a way far better suited to who she really is.  Some parents, I suppose, might find that horrific.  It’s possible, actually, that I am one of them, but I don’t really know yet, as my problems are still in the tantruming and please-use-your-fork-at-the-dinner-table stage.  But the beauty is how this character takes care of the problem herself, grows from it, and moves on.

If you think you can do it without preaching, this book could be used in that way to talk to a teenager about physical contact and what to do/expect.  However, I would really, really, stress that you should do it without preaching (preaching has, I doubt, ever had a positive effect on a teen), and I think using the context of the book and the characters–and sticking to that–would be a good idea.  I.e., don’t turn this around and say “so, what would you do if that boyfriend of yours tried something?”  But instead use the names and situations of the characters.  You’ll learn just as much by asking questions about them, and you’ll likely get further in the conversation, and thus learn even more.

The true beauty of the book, of course, is the way the four lives weave together, even though they are four very different characters.  In middle school and high school, kids can feel fairly isolated from peers that are different from them.  Talking to your kids about how different kids are involved in their lives, or how they experience similar things, might be a first step to getting them to think outside their own social clique.

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