Editor: Betsy Franco
Photography: Nina Nickles
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Audience: 14 and up. Contains strong language and sexual imagery.
Summary: Betsy Franco was inspired by a conversation with a teenage friend who expressed feelings that Betsy remembered in her own adolescence. She realized how important it was for teenage girls to communicate their experiences, and this was the impetus behind Things I Have to Tell You. In powerful poetry and prose, this collection explores the intense, unstable, lonely, turbulent emotional life of American girls coming of age. Much of it is difficult to take as it exposes the stifling load of perfection, conformity, competition and sensuality heaped on the fragile adolescent psyche. Secrets, anxiety, escape, tears, honesty, identities, appearances, bodies, hair, and the perpetual judgment of men saturate these strange and beautiful revelations about what they think it means to be a woman. One wants to “break the stereotype of a girl as a dainty little thing who needs a man by her side in order to do anything,” while another brags “This coquette can get/any man she’s set/eyes upon/a female Don Juan/the best/I confess/cannot help but obsess/over me/devil walking/in one hell of a dress.” Candid black and white photos of girls in their element, hanging out, in front of mirrors, cars, boys, each other, blurry with energy and startling intimate clarity add a visual dimension to each piece. Some of them are remarkably mature, others painfully naive, all of them touch the adolescent that still lurks in middle aged hearts.
Literary Elements: This book would be an excellent primer on poetry for high school creative writing, loaded with expressive images and metaphors: Hair that blows in the wind because it’s growing regrets, conformity that grows back like a dandelion pulled up but with roots deep in the ground, steam that curls off bath water. Most of it is free verse and streaming consciousness prose, executed with the discipline of clearly developed themes and the mechanics of good writing.
Theology: God is curiously missing from the entire collection. I find it hard to believe that there are no teenagers thinking and writing about their spiritual life. Every one of the pieces is centered around a self in a world of other selves. Perhaps that’s why so many of them are sad and lonely. Their strength seems comes from resistance to peer pressure, authority, and cultural mandates. Love is something to control, except in “A Letter To My Great Grandmother,” which is a deeply spiritual tribute to the kind of self-emptying love that characterizes Christian life.
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Susan Wills