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February 12th, 2013

2013 Stuff Read, #2

2. Lisa, Bright and Dark, by John LisaNeufeld

This is the second time I've read this book -- the first occurring way back in the dark recesses of the past when I was in fourth grade. Truth be told, I remember absolutely nothing about the book, other than the fact I had read it. However, the fact that I had remembered the title and reading it (there are plenty of books I read at that time I no longer possess any recollection of -- not even the title) made me want to go back and see what it was about the book that left an impression on me.

Now that I've taken another look, over 30 years later, I can only think that the reason the book made an impression on me at the time was that it dealt with subject matter that was far more mature than anything I previously read: the mental breakdown of a teenage girl and how her friends and parents handle it. However, since I have no recollection of how I responded to the book as a nine-year-old, I can only now write about my impressions when I finished it last night. Given that this was a New York Times Notable Book (the back cover proudly states this), I'm disappointed to say that my reaction was simply, "Meh."

It's not a bad book; I just didn't think it was anything special. Admittedly, I have no idea what the teen lit landscape looked like back when Lisa, Bright and Dark was written, and without taking the time to research it, I am left to assume that this novel was something of a groundbreaker in terms of its subject matter. I can appreciate novels that are important for this reason -- hell, the SF genre is littered with such novels and short stories. However, having read over the years other books that handled teen mental health with greater aplomb, the novel felt a little shallow.

Furthermore, while Neufeld's efforts to make the novel "as current as the last time you looked at your wristwatch" certainly helped to properly create the scene and tone, they also served to really date the material (I don't know about you, but the last time I wore a wristwatch -- let alone looked at one -- was at least five years ago.) There were a few moments where I almost wished it was a Norton edition so that I could have footnotes explaining what some of the cultural references were. I also felt that the depiction of Lisa's parents -- not at all involved with their daughter and showing absolutely no interest whatsoever in understanding her behavior  -- is a type of parenting that's hard to imagine taking place today.

It has certainly been interesting revisiting this tiny piece of my past. I really do wish that I could remember any of the reaction I had to the book back when I first read it. My response 30 years ago couldn't have been the same as the one I had when I finished the book last night. Otherwise, why would have I bothered to even remember the title of the book and reading it when there are so many other books from that time I've now completely forgotten?

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