“Oh, Mother! Don’t you wish you were a teenager!!?”
“No, I don’t, honey.”
Background: Author Jill Renich is the granddaughter of famed 19th century evangelist Reuben Archer Torrey, and she was born and raised by missionary parents in China. That is about all of the information the internet has to offer on her, aside from the fact that she is the author of Developing a Wholesome Sex Attitude in Children and Preparing Children for Marriage, titles which were probably less titter-worthy 40 or 50 years ago.
So You’re a Teenage Girl (So what!) promises to address such “major social crises” as
What to do on a Date
Handling Your Emotions
Look, I was going to go for the easy joke and be all like “This is clearly someone who is hep to The Young People!” But you know what? That is pretty much what I look like on my best day.
Some Highlights: The book is pretty much what you would expect in terms of content, reminding teenage girls that Going Steady leads to necking, which leads to petting, which leads to having to go visit your Aunt in Vermont for nine months and missing the prom and being forever ruined for your future husband.
What stands out is the approach, in which Mrs. Renich advises her imaginary daughter Jan (I assume based on her for-real daughter Janet, whom she thanks in the dedication) using the persona of “Mrs. Sherwood”.
Look, at least nobody is accidentally responsible for bombing Pearl Harbor in this one, right?
The fifteen chapters vary wildly in terms of stylistics, ranging from Jan’s strange, stream-of-consciousness ramblings while she suffers from PMS, to vignettes with a beginning, middle and end at a winter Church Camp, to Jan describing verbatim to her mother lectures she attended by nurses and missionaries.
The first chapter asks us to meditate on the theme of “Be tomorrow or next year what I am today?”, a sentence which I have read at least 12 times now and can make neither heads nor tales of. It deals with Jan losing out on an internship at the local newspaper because she rushes through her application essay so she can watch “The Whirling Teens” on television.
Her mood isn’t improved by her whole family being ALL UP IN HER BIZZNIZZ:
“What the matter with Jan?” chirped her seven-year old brother.
“Don’t you feel good?” asked Lyn, sympathetically.
“No, I don’t,” snapped Jan.
“Wow, it sure doesn’t sound like it,” commented Rick.
In a later chapter her siblings keep bursting into her room when she is trying to get dressed for a date with Tim From Minnesota to the Spring Church Banquet:
“Oh, Rick, I’ve told you a hundred times to stay out of here.”
“I’m just trying to help you, Jan. You don’t have to yell like that.”
“I don’t need any help,” Jan snapped.
“Boy, you need help about yelling. If Tim could hear you now!”
“Shut up, and for the last time get out and stay out.”
“Jan, mother says it’s way early, how come you’re dressed already? “
“Now, look, I just told Rick to get out. You get out too, and mind your own business.”
“I just wanted to tell you how pretty you looked!”
And so on. If I had to deal with that much togetherness I’d probably have constant PMS too.
Jan’s (presumably fake-) Cousin Debbie has some advice on the subject as well:
I think the greatest problem is the week before menstruation.
There are a couple of things that I do now to help myself.
One thing is, if I’m going to say anything, it will have to be nice, or I won’t say it. Another is I block myself off from the family. I try not to get into any conversations so I won’t get into an argument with the kids or my folks.
I just go and hide out in the Red Tent in the woods for a week. It’s just easier on everyone this way.
Many times the problem is complicated by your body’s chemical changes during menstruation. Your doctor will be able to recommend a good covering cream to keep you presentable.
Jan and her friends go on a retreat to a girls’ camp over the Christmas break, where they attend a lecture entitled “Date Bait”, which is pretty standard:
“Even though they may give the impression on a date that they want the girl to give in to them, they really don’t respect a girl who does.”
“If a boy tries to get out of line on a date, toss it off lightly and keep out of his reach!”
‘When my brother told me about all the temptations he has, I was glad I’m a girl! We girls are not affected that way. Fellow’s [sic] clothes or their walk don’t have much effect on us, one way or the other.”
Um, speak for yourself.
The camp director advises the girls to form a ‘Never Go Steady’ club and solemnly vow to never date the same guy twice in a row.
Also, the food at Church Camp is really good:
“Oh, my diet,” groaned Susan, “but I’m starved!”
“The food’s too good- I’m skipping my diet until I get home.” Anne tried to comfort Susan,
“There’ll just be more of you for Bob to love, Sue.”
“But you don’t know. He hates fat girls!” moaned Susan.
Somebody needs to tell Sue about the miracle of the Cold Dry Hamburger Diet!
Back at home, Jan gets asked out on a date by Doug, whose family does not attend church. Jan’s mother advises her to turn him down politely:
“There is such a difference in fellows. Some you couldn’t discourage with anything, but others seldom date, and their ego is shattered when they are turned down. It may be a long time before they ask another girl.”
“It is hard enough to cope with the drag of the day- the insidious degeneration on every side, the tide of evil- without having friends that drift with the tide.”
Um, heavy. But also a convenient point for fake-Mrs. Renich to plug the for-reals Mrs. Renich’s Preparing Your Children For Marriage!
Jan and her friends try to befriend Pam, the new girl at school, despite the fact that Jan thinks “Her clothes and hair are so extreme and she acts like she owns the world.”
Despite Jan’s reservations, they invite Pam to a picnic and “the girls tried to hide their disdainful looks.”
Can Pam just be happy being Pam? She probably puts a lot of work into that beehive hair-do, wrapping it in toilet paper every night, checking to make sure it isn’t full of spider-eggs…
But no, Imaginary Mrs. Renich sticks Pam with an alcoholic father and mother who is too busy clubbing about to advise her daughter on letting heathen beatnik boys down lightly.
It’s nice that Jan and the gang want to give her a makeover, but they’re kind of backhanded about it. When they invite her to a youth group meeting
Jan had prepared the way for Pam by reminding the young people of her need to feel welcome.
“You’re just about my size,” Anne said. “I have some extra things that I’d be glad to lend to you.”
Nice burlap midi-sacks!
I’d like to end on some oddly specific advice for gift-giving. So remember that a sweater is “too personal” to give as a gift to a boy. Instead, choose “a key ring with a model of a car on it.”