Google+ Reading Teen: Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel by Hilary Thayer Hamann

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel by Hilary Thayer Hamann

Today we have a guest post! When we went to ALA last year, I picked up this enormous book. It looked interesting, but at the same time, the sheer volume completely terrified me. However, when my friend Elisa stopped by, she saw it and thought it might be something she would enjoy. Well, she was right, and thankfully she decided to write a review for us!

Elisa doesn't have a book blog, but she does have her own amazing blog where she talks about important issues like providing clean water for those who need it, and educating people about human trafficking.  You should definitely go check out her blog, The Average Advocate.

Thanks, Elisa, for this review, and for providing info about the content as well!  I think you may have been a book reviewer in another life cause this review is way better than our usual drivel.  :D

Hardcover: 624 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Revised edition (May 25, 2010)
Language: English
Buy the Book: Amazon

Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel.
Hilary Thayer Hamann. 2009. Spiegel & Grau: New York.

Right from the start, it must be said: This book is a brick. Not just a brick but pretty much brick in every sense of a way a book could be a brick. For starters, I am pretty sure these 600 pages could be used to hold open a door or be plastered into your wall to give it strength. My copy fell into the bathtub and still survived, instead just adding another inch of strength to its massive form.

Yet, it's a brick between the covers too. It has moderate violence, heavy profanity, very heavy sexual content, and also includes drugs, underage drinking, smoking, and suicide.

But don’t throw out the Anthropology of an American Girl just yet. It was really good. In fact, maybe even a potential classic. There is no way I would categorize this book as young adult, not just because of its “heavy” content, but really just because I don’t think its intended audience is teenagers. This book explores the soul- your own soul. Which is really heavy.

I studied anthropology in college, which in essence, the study of what it means to be human. One of the main things cultural anthropologists do is hang out with a group of people to write these weird books called ethnologies about them. Anthropology tries to capture a particular group’s way of doing, thinking . . . everything. In essence, Anthropology of an American Girl is just that, it is a study of what it is like to be a girl in America. In fact, its even be more about a girl moving to adulthood, something similar to a coming of age story, but one we can relate to long after we have “come of age.”

The book begins with melancholy, sixteen-year-old, artistic Eveline in high school. She has a girly BF, a rebellious philosopher of a boyfriend, and not the best family situation. I actually almost quit reading this book multiple times at the beginning. It was tedious with no real plot yet, but I guess if you are going to write a 600 page book, you have the right to set the scene with the first 200 of them. I think the author still had a purpose in this. Mainly because it is showing Evie’s metamorphosis, but also so we could really get to know Evie. And probably as intended, reading it made me feel like I was her and I was in high school again.

But then the book gets good, as a plot unfolds around when she graduates high school, and the book sticks with Eveline until just past the end of her college. The rest of the book has to do with the desire for love and the heartache love and pain can bring. Its hard to say more than that without ruining it for you, which is why other reviews only go that far. But I will try to offer a little more, by saying there are at least three guys in love with Evie, her being in love with only the one, she was led off by another, with these two plotting to have her as their own. And its also about boxing, the New England beach, New York City, art, the upper class, music, partying, home, relationships, God, psychology and philosophy. Which is to say, a lot. The book moves back and forth throughout time, which made it much more like a mystery the reader had to figure out. Unlike other stories, this one is melancholy enough that I couldn’t actually guess the ending. In fact, if you asked me what I would want the ending to look like in the middle of the book, It would be different than what I was hoping the ending would be in the last few chapters. Which is to say, it is not dead.

Here is a little more description on the content of the book, which I mentioned earlier: Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff in this book. Thankfully, though, it is not glorified as I think I would be disgusted if it was. I think there could be a lot less profanity while still maintaining “the integrity” of the book’s meaning. Yet, for the most part, the drinking, drug-use, and smoking in the book was referred to matter-of-factly. Although the characters in the book used different types of drugs, the end of the book strongly focuses on the way drugs destroy.

Although the sex content is very heavy, sex is more purposeful than not purposeful in this book. By that I mean there are not really descriptive sex scenes written solely just to seduce the readers attention. It shows sex as a very desirable thing, yet also as a very negative thing, but it is always pre-marital sex. More realistically, this book does encompass consequences of teen sex, such as pregnancy. Even more importantly, it spends a large amount of time exploring the effect it can have on the soul- extreme internal brokenness. Rape, “mean sex” (we never really know what, but that is just fine with me), miscarriage, a homosexual friend, extreme partying, death, suicide, and fighting also come up in the book.

If I had a teenager would I let them read this book? Probably not. But if I did, I would read it at the same time with them and probably not until they were going to leave home. I would want to be available to talk with my teen, to help them be prepared for what life can be like from a positive environment. I’d read it with them if I thought they were going to stumble upon all the “life” this book covers, so they through wouldn’t have to figure out by themselves. Still, I will strongly caution parents to use great discretion letting an older teen read it, let alone younger teens. In reality, I would be surprised if this book would actually interest most teens, anyway.

Altogether I would rate this book a three out of six. I myself loved it, but I don’t think its for everyone. I liked it so much that I was totally depressed when I finished it because I felt so close to the characters. But maybe that was because the book took so long to read that these characters were my only friends *wink*. I even cried at different parts and had to process some of the ideas it brought up in my journal! Pathetic, I know. But, it has a lot of heavy content, it is very long and tedious, and I have no doubt some people would just hate it regardless. This book is more of an art, wording experiences and feelings we have lived, than it is just a good story. If one doesn’t appreciate this type of art in the first place, the this book will be lost to them. Yet for me, I will probably shelf this brick with the classics.


1 comment:

  1. Not the kind of book I'd read for fun but nice review, Elisa!


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