In order to explore what it means to be a teen in America in the 90s, Hersch went into the middle and high schools of Reston, Virginia, and sought out a "representative sample" of 8 teens. She then followed these teens through the ups and downs of their teen years by interviewing them and attending school and extracurricular activites with them. She did everything she could to get to know her subjects and see the world through their eyes. The issues that the teens deal with are familiar ones such as broken families, sexual activity, school performance, drugs and alcohol, and identity.
Perhaps the most important idea contained in this book is that teens need the support of parents, teachers, counselors, and other adults. Teens are a "tribe apart" because the adults in their lives seek to control and discipline (or otherwise ignore) them rather than take the time to understand them and legitimize the struggles that they have growing up. Of course, this is certainly not representative of the lives of all teens; loving parents, positive role models and supportive home environments do exist. In this respect, Hersch's reporting is somewhat sensationalistic and lopsided. However, the portraits of teens growing up in the face of adversity is poignant. For a broader spectrum of teens' lives from their perspective, readers could also try Seen and Heard: Teenagers Talk About Their Lives by Mary Motley Kalergis.
Reviewed by ck, 2/00. Other reviews by ck.