Book Review: Reviving Ophelia

Please welcome our newest Lark, Julie, to the nest! Julie will be specializing in classics and other texts she is currently using in her classroom, but she will also review other titles that she is reading for enjoyment purposes from time to time. She worked on weekly features when Reading Lark first opened, but this is her first review with us. We are so excited to have her join the reviewing staff! 

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls
Published By: Riverhead Trade
Publication Date: January 1, 1994
Page Count: 293
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Genre: Nonfiction

How do you begin to critique a book that changed your entire life? It might sound like hyperbole to some, but that’s what Reviving Ophelia did; it changed my life. And based on the feedback I get every time I mention the book, it’s subtitle of Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls is somewhat misleading, because it has “saved the selves” of many an adult as well. The book is equal parts fascinating and eye opening, and, in this reviewer’s opinion, required reading for every woman (especially mothers of young girls). And I promise, after you read it you will never look at our media-saturated, “girl-poisoning culture” the same way again.

Reviving Ophelia is a revealing and insightful look into the lives of adolescent girls in the early 1990’s, illustrated brilliantly with case studies of the girls that author Dr. Mary Pipher counsels in her therapy practice. The book focuses it’s chapters on specific issues that impact adolescent development, like sex and violence; depression; eating disorders; divorce; families; drugs and alcohol; with separate chapters devoted to mothers and fathers. And I feel like I should be clear about this, it is a nonfiction text (I added it to my 10th grade English curriculum this year when we needed “more nonfiction”). It can lean toward the dry and informational when discussing population samples and psychological terms, but each chapter includes multiple case studies of girls from ages 13 to 23, which I find to be the most traditionally “entertaining” aspect of the book.

 I wish I could say this was the most well written book I've ever read (because I love it so, SO much), but the “fascinating, eye opening” aspect of this book is contained in its subject matter, not the author’s writing style. Pipher tends to repeat herself, especially when dissecting technical information. This repetition, I’m certain, is designed to present difficult-to-understand information in multiple ways in order to reach a mass audience, but comes across as a lack of confidence in her readers. One aspect of her writing that I thoroughly enjoy is her use of allusions to classical literature and popular culture that her adult readers will likely recognize, even if they are not intimately familiar with the text. In a single page of the first chapter she references Pippi Longstocking, Caddie Woodlawn, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and finally Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.

 Final Word: Read this book, and read it now. If you don’t typically enjoy nonfiction texts, skim the technical stuff. It’s worth it. Trust me. And then give it to any teenagers you know. You’ll be surprised at the conversations it will spark with even the most resistant, uncommunicative teenage girl.

Everybody who has survived adolescence knows what a scary, tumultuous, exciting time it is. But if we use memories of our experiences to guide our understanding of what today's girls are living through, we make a serious mistake. Our daughters are living in a new world.

Reviving Ophelia is a call to arms from Dr. Mary Pipher, a psychologist who has worked with teenagers for more than a decade. She finds that in spite of the women's movement, which has empowered adult women in some ways, teenage girls today are having a harder time than ever before because of higher levels of violence and sexism. The current crises of adolescence - frequent suicide attempts, dropping out of school and running away from home, teenage pregnancies in unprecedented numbers, and an epidemic of eating disorders - are caused not so much by "dysfunctional families" or incorrect messages from parents as by our media-saturated, lookist, girl-destroying culture. 

Young teenagers are not developmentally equipped to meet the challenges that confront them. Adolescence in America has traditionally involved breaking away from parents, experimenting with the trappings of adult life, and searching for autonomy and independence. 

Today's teenagers face serious pressures at an earlier age than that at which teenagers in the past did. The innocent act of attending an unsupervised party can lead to acquaintance rape. Having a boyfriend means dealing with sexual pressures, and often leads to pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases. It's no wonder that girls' math scores plummet and depression levels rise when they reach junior high. As they encounter situations that are simply too complex for them to handle, their self-esteem crumbles. 

The dangers young women face today can jeopardize their futures. It is critical that we understand the circumstances and take measures to correct them. We need to make that precious age of experimentation safe for adolescent girls.


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