By Sara Shandler Harper Perennial, 1999 Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 24th 2002
In Reviving Ophelia,
Mary Pipher argued that the country's young women are in a sorry
state, experiencing discrimination and pressure from peers, parents,
and the media. Teen Sara Shandler read Pipher's book and was very
impressed - she felt that it mirrored her experience. But she
also felt that the book did not allow girls to speak in their
own voices, and this led her to the idea for her book. In Ophelia
Speaks, Shandler collects writing by teens from across the
country describing their experiences of eating disorders, self-cutting,
drugs, alcohol, rape, pregnancy, death, abuse, loss, depression,
stress, and harassment as well as positive experiences of friends,
family, faith, and sexuality.
In each chapter Shandler talks a little about her own experience
as it relates to the topic at hand, and she introduces a few selections
from the contributions by other writers. Some are anonymous, some
are named, and all give the age and geographical location of the
writer. Shandler herself was 16 when she started the project,
and when the book was published she was a student at Wesleyan
University. She is articulate and interesting in talking about
herself and her experience in putting these writings together.
Many of the contributions are also interesting and even moving,
and this book is a quick read. Maybe some girls will find it inspiring
or reassuring to read about the experience of others, and maybe
some parents will find the book informative as a way of getting
a sense of what their daughters' lives are like. But readers need
to keep in mind that this collection of stories is highly selective,
and very likely does not represent the experience of many young
women. Some readers may share my reaction on learning more and
more about Shandler's experience with each chapter; as I read
on, I reflected that I don't have much interest in her life. While
she comes across as likable and forthright, there's nothing very
exceptionable about her, and I would have preferred if she devoted
less space to herself.
Furthermore, while the individual pieces by the contributors are
all good, they are short and don't leave readers much the wiser
about what it was really like to go through those experiences.
What's more, and here I'm afraid I'm going to sound tremendously
unsympathetic, but there it is, most of these girls don't have
much to say that isn't about themselves. I am happy for people
to express themselves, but I'm not sure exactly what others will
gain from reading these pieces. My favorite piece in the book
is at the end, "Fight Girl Power," by Emily Carmichael,
15, from a city in the Northeast. Emily's piece is a little angry
and didactic, and I'm not sure if it is entirely coherent, but
it's got an energy and criticality that most of the other pieces
lack, and especially welcome is the fact that it is more about
the world and the idea of "girl power" than a revelation
of her unfortunate experiences.
So Ophelia Speaks may be of limited interest. Nevertheless,
fans of Reviving Ophelia should find it an interesting
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster
communication between philosophers, mental health professionals,
and the general public.