Anthropology of An American Girl – Book Review

But in fact there are infinite subtleties to identity – that is to say, there is the way that you are, which the sum of the way you are becoming and the way you have been, and which does not take into account the way you secretly wish to be. – from Anthropology of an American Girl, page 80 –

Eveline “Evie” Auerbach is growing up in East Hampton, New York in the late 1970’s. She is a philosophical young woman trying to uncover who she is as she navigates the uncertain waters of her senior year in high school and the transition to college in New York City. Anthropology of an American Girl opens in the fall of 1979 as Evie enters her final year of high school. Her best friend, Kate, has just lost her mother to cancer and is living with Evie and Evie’s mother. The two girls have a close relationship which is being tested by loss, grief, and the simple fact that they are growing up and apart. Evie is struggling with her relationship with her boyfriend, Jack – a boy who is angry, cynical, and a bit possessive. Evie and Jack seem to be perfect for each other – they are both artists (Jack a musician, while Evie likes to make sketches and create art) and they love to have deep and intellectual discussions, but their relationship is soon strained by an older man named Harrison Rourke. Predictably, Evie ends her uneven relationship with Jack and begins an affair with Rourke which is doomed to fail.  Anthropology of An American Girl is a coming of age story which follows the life of one girl as she grows from adolescence into young adulthood.

I had heard a lot about this book before deciding to read it – and it seemed as though I was the perfect target audience for this novel since I came of age during the same time period as Evie. I graduated from high school in 1978 (a year before Evie does) and went on to college, graduating in 1982. But, I had a hard time relating to Evie who comes across much older than her years and has a flair for the melodramatic. Perhaps it was Hamann’s tendency to liberally pepper her writing with metaphor, but I grew tired of being inside of Evie’s head.

The novel is not without merit. I enjoyed some of the insights into aging. The idealism of youth is perfectly encapsulated through Evie’s unique view of the world.

You’re old when you lean that needs are to be eclipsed by civility. You’re old when you join the sticky, stenchy morass of concealed neediness that is society. You’re old when you give up trying to change people because then they might want to change you too. When you’re young, needs are explicit, possibilities are endless, formalities undiscovered, and proofs of allegiance direct. – from Anthropology of An American Girl, page 17 –

I also enjoyed some of the late 1970s references which catapulted me back to my own youth, like the reference to “Pappagallo purses with the wood handles and the button-on fabric covers” – yes, I owned one of these!

Despite these positives, I found myself rolling my eyes when Evie falls into her angst-driven monologues and melodramatic depictions of love.

I knew his nearness was miraculous. It was nothing I could explain; it was an old knowledge. My feelings for him were like memories rising up, dormant things revivified, regaining dimension, spinning to life. To be near him, the world turned alive. – from Anthropology of An American Girl, page 121 –

I know teens can be overemotional about life, love and everything in between, but I don’t necessarily want to spend 600 pages reading about it.

I really wanted to love this novel. I pushed myself through it hoping that it would come together for me. But in the end, I found myself wishing that it had been half its length. I think my disappointment stems from characters who I could not relate to, and language which was just a bit too flowery and overwrought to satisfy me.

Don’t take my word for it, however. There have been many positive reviews of this book. You can find some of them by visiting the TLC Book Tour page and clicking through the links.

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FTC Disclosure:  Many thanks to  TLC Book Tours and Spiegel & Grau for providing me with a review copy of Anthropology of An American Girl.

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  1. I am not sure if I would like this one, based on the fact that there is so much angst and it is so long. I cam of age just a bit later than this book takes place, so it might be interesting to get a peek into that time frame, but I can imagine that this book might annoy me a little bit. I did appreciate your honest take on it though, and thought you wrote a very well-rounded review.

  2. It sounds like the book had some promise – too bad it didn’t live up to it. We used to call those purses with the wooden handles Bermuda bags.

  3. I went back and forth on this one while I was reading it, but ended up being much more impressed by it than I thought I would be. Having said that, I was annoyed by many of the things you mentioned, too. This one was an experience.

  4. Darn, I hate it when I’m really excited about a book and then it doesn’t live up to my expectations. Too bad that was your experience here. Regardless, I appreciate you being a part of the tour.

  5. It sounds interesting. Too bad you didn’t like it a bit more, though…

  6. I’m sorry to hear this one didn’t live up to your expectations. I almost signed up for this tour, but now I’m kinda glad I didn’t (after reading your and Florinda’s reviews)!

    • Amused on July 6, 2011 at 20:54

    I keep seeing this around and thinking I would like and then I hesitated. Something about it made me pause and I don’t like flowery language either so I think that’s a good thing.

    • JoAnn on July 7, 2011 at 03:13

    I had one of those Pappagallo purses, too! Not sure whether I’ll read this… maybe I’ll borrow a copy from the library at some point.

    • Wendy on July 7, 2011 at 05:19

    Heather (Zibilee): Thanks – I really hate when I don’t like a book I am touring and I tried to be fair in my review. I know other people have really loved this one, so I guess I just wasn’t the right audience for it.

    Kathy: Yes, those were the ones!

    Florinda: I agree – there were moments in the book I thought I might end up liking it…but ultimately it just wasn’t for me.

    Heather (TLC): I really hate not to be able to give a glowing review on a tour…I really suffered over writing this! But, in the end, I have to be honest, right? Thanks for having me!

    Kailana: I agree!

    Avis: I am usually really good at knowing which books I’ll love…once in awhile I get it wrong!

    Amused: *nods* Many people have given this one a good review, so it is hard for me to tell people not to try it.

    JoAnn: I really did appreciate the references to our time growing up 🙂 Definitely one of the positives in the book!

    • Andi on July 7, 2011 at 05:32

    I would have a hard time with this one. I rarely associate high-flown metaphor and philosophizing with a teenager (especially since I have them in the house). I would find this one hard to buy into, I fear.

    Great review, Wendy!

    • Wendy on July 7, 2011 at 05:45

    Andi: Thanks – a tough one for me to write…but, I don’t think this one would resonate with you (knowing what you like to read).

  7. I’ve seen such a wide variety of thoughts on this that I just don’t know which way to go on it. I’m so sorry it didn’t really work for you. :O/

    • Amanda on July 9, 2011 at 09:13

    Wonderful review! I applaud you plodding through the whole book. I definitely did not make it that far. I think that having grown up in the same era as she did helped. I think I’m a bit too young for the book. O well.

    • Wendy on July 10, 2011 at 19:42

    Pam: I know, I was disappointed. I can’t really guide you. So many people have loved this novel; and so many people have not. It is toss up whether you’d like it.

    Amanda: I have to admit – if I hadn’t been touring this novel, I would have quit by page 300. Sorry you didn’t like it either.

    • Jacki on July 22, 2011 at 19:21

    I finished the whole book with similar sentiments. It was peppered with awesome quotes, but it did drag on. At first I thought evie was going to be a strong, independent, female voice. But she fell flat on her face with all the ridiculous love nonsense. Honestly – who still yearns for their high school boyfriend 6 years later? And the whole rourke thing? He’s a freaking student teacher pedophile. Ugh. I became increasingly annoyed as it went on…

    • Wendy on July 24, 2011 at 08:02

    Jacki: I’m glad I am not alone with my thoughts on this one – I agree about the student teacher – he really disgusted me too.

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