Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or maybe it’s because I find it easier to plough through the fiction I read with a firm base in real events, but I’m reading lots of non-fiction right now. The latest one that really stands out for me is What It Takes to Pull Me Through: Why Teenagers Get in Trouble and How Four of Them Got Out. It’s written by David L. Marcus, a journalist who has largely focused on education and has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize among other accolades.
To be honest, I ordered the book from the library because it popped up as a recommendation while I was searching for other things on the website. Every time I reserve and renew books, movies, and music on my library’s website, I’m amazed at how easy it is to access literature and information these days, even in old school book form. As a not-so-shameless plug for public libraries, go check yours out: my annual card costs less than the admission to a single movie in the theatre, and I get a heap of milage out of that fee.
Anyway, I reserved What It Takes to Pull Me Through because the subtitle made me think it was a book about misbehavior on the small scale, like the stuff that causes disruption in my classroom, and I hoped it could give me some insight. Sometimes books include the results of recent studies that address the way kids’ brain functions are affected by their use of technology and other pertinent life experiences, and knowing the latest can boost a teacher’s efficacy noticeably.
Marcus’ book was so enthralling that I stayed up most of the night reading it, but it was nothing like I expected. His book describes the events he witnessed following four highly troubled teens, “Bianca,” “Tyrone,” “Mary Alice,” and “D.J.,” through a specialized boarding school program designed to help kids for whom all other avenues have failed. It’s not about kids who cause problems in the classroom, although many of these kids do. This is a book that discusses the experiences of kids who are in real trouble, the ones whose lives are endangered by substance abuse, promiscuity, violence, disordered eating, and all the other risky behavior nobody wants to talk about.
What I love about this book is the way the author reveals the traumas each child has suffered a bit at a time, in a similar process to the way he learned the truth about their lives while following their progress at the treatment school. Like the author, I felt emotionally invested in the children because of this technique, and I was repeatedly knocked sideways by a new revelation about their rocky pasts. Also, I appreciated the bluntness with which the teens’ experiences were presented and discussed. A serious part of the problems facing teens who desperately need adult help is the fact that people don’t want to talk about these things. So often, the few adults who don’t deny the issues downplay them because they can’t face the truth about the ways children are victimized or suffering. What It Takes to Pull Me Through addresses the issues with a refreshing, albeit unsettling, frankness that is so rare in discussions about troubled teens.
As I read, a number of things that worry me about the issues faced by today’s teenagers were confirmed. While the author acknowledges that children of all social, racial and economic backgrounds can be trapped in dangerous, self-destructive cycles, the statistics prove by far the ones most likely to get the help they need are those who come from privileged homes. I shuddered at the thought that the kids who stand the best chances to be taught to save themselves represent only a modest sliver of the population. In addition to the uncomfortable reality that effective treatment is prohibitively expensive (the program being examined cost about $70,000 USD for 14 months) I was further struck by the low, low percentages of graduates of this program who remain dedicated to their new paths in the months and years following the program’s end; this was also one of the most effective programs available.
I could write about this book for much longer than I should. As a teacher, I am grateful for writers like David L. Marcus, who face these shattering realities head-on, with compassion and honesty. Teenagers are so vulnerable on myriad levels, and more people need to be truly aware of the key issues they face.
I highly recommend What It Takes to Pull Me Through: Why Teenagers Get in Trouble and How Four of Them Got Out for all adults who care about young people. It doesn’t matter if you have no children of your own or don’t work directly with kids; most people have teens in their family, or know families with youth who could be struggling. Please be warned that the realism of the situations, including the strong language, will be upsetting to some readers. As I’ve mentioned, though, denial is a significant obstacle to helping teens who are in danger, and adults need to take responsibility for helping children overcome and avoid adversity.
I know I’m not a serious writer most days, but today is a day when I sweep all joking aside to address an issue that is very close to my heart.
You need to read this book.
copyright 2011: http://bluespeckledpup.com