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Parenting Gone Awry   Leave a comment

Imperfect Birds

Anne Lamott’s Imperfect Birds is either a wake-up call or a near-miss experience for parents and their kids. Either way, it’s a disheartening look at teenagers, parenting, and community. The first paragraph sets the tone: “… a teenager died nearly every year after a party and kids routinely went from high school to psych wards, halfway houses, or jail.” The first thing I’d do is move, no matter how idyllic the little town, where the story’s set, with its appealing proximity to San Francisco.

Lamott writes with purpose, honesty and humor. Yet her characters are not likeable. Rosie is an entitled high school senior, facing real and difficult situations where peer pressure, availability of drugs, and opportunities for sex are abundant. Elizabeth and James, Rosie’s mother and stepfather, know these dangers exist, but are reluctant to parent. Why should they? Rosie’s a good student and involved at church. Plus, as a consummate liar she successfully overrides her parents’ arbitrary concerns.

It doesn’t help that Elizabeth is a recovering alcoholic – except it should. She shouldn’t be such an easy mark. James doesn’t fare much better, although he tries. Elizabeth’s fault is her desire to be Rosie’s friend first and parent second. The book does lend itself to a discussion about parenting.

If Lamott’s goal is to show how blind loving parents can be, she’s successful. When Elizabeth and James finally see the light, it’s not through their personal epiphanies, rather from Rosie forgetting to keep the wool over her own eyes.

Imperfect Birds
Three Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2010
317 pages

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