What’s Your Favorite “Coming of Age” Story?

Cherry: A Memoir by Mary Karr

Most people who’ve raised children to adulthood would agree with Raymond Duncan who says,”the best substitute for experience is being sixteen.” But, did you know that some of the most popular books today are teenage “Coming of Age” memoirs? While almost every parent I know thinks their own teen is a drama queen/king, most would not consider junior’s life worth mining for art’s sake. Surely we all know by now that most adults are wrong.

As Oscar Wilde says, “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”

My own book, Cracking Up, was written with hopes of helping “crack up” my own teen girrrls—six nieces. I’d rather they laugh than go crazy being raised within the nutty walls of our Conservative Roman Catholic schools (the same ones that I’d attended). Though I loved writing every one of my books, my own coming-of-age memoir is not my most cherished one.

What’s your favorite coming of age story? I have so many, I don’t know where to begin. But, I’ll pick just one for now and hope you’ll share yours with the rest of us here. Mine is Cherry written by prizewinning poet and memoirist, Mary Karr. You may remember her bestselling and earliest work called The Liars’ Club.

While I’d never call Mary Karr “scrappy,” the briefest book reviews seem to use that adjective to describe her. See some reviews/summaries here on Powells.com.

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“Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.” ~ Arnold H. Glasow

Mary Karr told the prizewinning tale of her hardscrabble Texas childhood with enough literary verve to spark a renaissance in memoir. The Liars’ Club rode the top of The New York Times bestseller list for more than a year, and publications ranging from The New Yorker to People magazine picked it as one of the best books of the year. But it left people wondering: How’d that scrappy kid make it outa there? Cherry dares to tell that story. Karr picks up the trail and dashes off into her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom.

In this long-awaited sequel, we see Karr ultimately trying to run from the thrills and terrors of her sexual awakening by butting up against authority in all its forms. She lands all too often in the principal’s office and — in one instance — a jail cell. Looking for a lover or heart’s companion who’ll make her feel whole, she hooks up with an outrageous band of surfers and heads, wanna-be yogis and bona fide geniuses.

Karr’s edgy, brilliant prose careens between hilarity and tragedy, and Cherry takes readers to a place never truly explored — deep inside a girl’s stormy, ardent adolescence. Parts will leave you gasping with laughter. But its soaring close proves that from even the smokiest beginnings a solid self can form, one capable of facing down all manner of monsters.

Review:

“Readers seduced by Karr’s canny memoir of a childhood spent under the spell of a volatile, defiantly loving family in The Liars’ Club can look forward to more exquisite writing in this sequel focusing on her adolescence in a dusty Texas town…. Moving effortlessly from breathtaking, to heart stabbing, to laugh out loud raucous, the precision and sheer beauty of Karr’s writing remains astounding.” ~ Publishers Weekly

Review:

“Karr proves herself as fluent in evoking the common ground of adolescence as she did in limning her anomalous girlhood. As she did in The Liars’ Club, Ms. Karr combines a poet’s lyricism and a Texan’s down-home vernacular with her natural storytelling gift. Some of her stories are nostalgic for a vanished time and place; some are scathing in their evocation of an insular world; some are just plain funny.” ~ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Synopsis:

In the long-awaited sequel to The Liars’ Club, Karr picks up the trail of her hardscrabble Texas childhood and dashes off into her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. The book’s soaring close proves that from even the smokiest beginnings a solid self can form, one capable of facing down all manners of monsters.

Description:

From Mary Karr comes this gorgeously written, often hilarious story of her tumultuous teens and sexual coming-of-age. Picking up where the bestselling The Liars’ Club left off, Karr dashes down the trail of her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. Fleeing the thrills and terrors of adolescence, she clashes against authority in all its forms and hooks up with an unforgettable band of heads and bona-fide geniuses. Parts of Cherry will leave you gasping with laughter. Karr assembles a self from the smokiest beginnings, delivering a long- awaited sequel that is both “bawdy and wise.” ~ San Francisco Chronicle
Karr is also an award-winning poet who claims, “Working on poems is like cheating on your husband; it’s what I really want to do but they won’t pay me for it.”
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What If My Life Story is Undignified?

“Don’t be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity.” ~ Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy’s Life

Mary Karr, poet, memoirist, educator and survivor of an East Texan childhood

Review by “Georgie” at Powells.com:

Mary Karr is a poet who writes wry, punchy, blackly humorous prose. Her harrowing childhood is brought to Technicolor life in her memoir The Liars’ Club. A dazzling bestseller, The Liars’ Club was selected one of the best books of 1995 by Time MagazineThe New Yorker 

Karr manages to tell her story with love, wicked humor, clarity, and a complete lack of self pity. With its pathos and color Karr has written what she would call a “white-trash” Angela’s Ashes making her one of America’s most loved memoirists.

“This book is so good I thought about sending it out for a backup opinion…it’s like finding Beethoven in Hoboken. To have a poet’s precision of language and a poet’s insight into people applied to one of the roughest, toughest, ugliest places in America is an astonishing event.” ~ Molly Ivins, The Nation

Penguin Books writes:

When it was first published in 1995, The Liars’ Club took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, as well as bringing about a dramatic revival of the form. Now with a new introduction that discusses her memoir’s impact on her family, this unsentimental and profoundly moving account of an apocalyptic childhood is as “funny, lively, and un-put-downable” (USA Today) today as it ever was.”

About the Author

Mary Karr is a Jesse Truesdale Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University. Her three volumes of poetry are Viper Rum (New Directions), The Devil’s Tour, and Abacus. Her poems and essays have won Pushcart prizes and have appeared in such magazines as The New YorkerThe Atlantic, andParnassus. Her memoir, The Liar’s Club, was a New York Times bestseller for more than a year and was selected as one of the best books of 1995 by many periodicals, including The New YorkerTimePeople, andEntertainment WeeklyCherry (Viking), her follow up to The Liar’s Club, was a bestseller for The New York TimesThe Boston GlobeLos Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, and was named “Best Book” of 2000 by Entertainment WeeklyUs, and Amazon.com. She was a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College and is now the Jesse Truesdell Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University. She is the recipient of Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry in 2004.
“Astonishing…one of the most dazzling and moving memoirs to come along in years.” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

See the rest of  The New York Times review of Liar’s Club HERE

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