Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Problem Novel. A Historical Novel. A Problem Novel. A Historical Novel.

Bout of BooksHouse of Girls by Joyce Shor Johnson was one of the eBooks I was hoping to finish reading as part of my participation in the
Bout of Books Marathon. And I made it.

House of Girls deals with a situation that readers of a certain age may find stereotypical--the young girl who gets pregnant, all Hell breaks loose, and she disappears for a few months. Read that way, some could see it as a classic teen problem novel. Problem novels often deal with stereotypical situations.

But Sharon Levi's story takes place in the early 1960s, and what happens to her may not be as common an occurrance to young readers today. In all likelihood fewer young women find themselves in such extreme situations because of  easier access to and knowledge of birth control, more acceptance of children born outside of marriage, social support for teen mothers, and legal availability of abortion. In that sense, House of Girls seems very much a historical novel. What happens to Sharon may be universal--pregnancy--but the response to it is very much about the time she lives in.

Shor Johnson does a good job in the early portion of this book showing how a very young woman could be drawn into a risky sexual relationship. Sharon isn't just drawn to her young man, Irish. She has become aware of sex, and she is drawn to that. There is a definite feeling of sixteen-year-old Sharon and the other girls in her family being newly sexual beings. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that a lot of young girls would be interested in it because it expresses what I suspect many of them are feeling. Then I wondered how adult gatekeepers handle a book  like this. How do you offer kids a book that portrays teen sexuality?

It takes Sharon half the book to actually get pregnant. In order to avoid spoilers, I don't want to go into great detail about what happens to her and her eighteen-year-old boyfriend after that point. I don't think it's giving too much away, though, to say that Sharon ends up in a facility for pregnant minors, since the book is called House of Girls. It's an unfortunate title because the house of girls doesn't come into the picture until the halfway point, and the other girls there aren't that important. This is Sharon's story.

And there most definitely is a story here. A story is an account of something that happens to somebody and its significance. Sharon got pregnant and the misery she went through is the significance. There was probably little hope for her and her young man as far as a long-term relationship is concerned because of their youth and Irish's, shall we say, lack of dependability. But if they had lived in a different time with different people, their relationship might have been allowed to run its course. Their suffering, particularly Sharon's, would have been of a much more mundane nature, nothing like what she went through because she had the bad luck to get pregnant at sixteen during the Kennedy Era.

I read this as an eBook that I got for free during a promotion earlier this year. This is another example of the opportunities for discovery provided by eBooks.


Joyce Johnson said...

Thank you Gail.

Gail Gauthier said...

You are most welcome.