An Authentic Experience by Kelly Wittmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kelly Wittmann's "An Authentic Experience" is a lovely peek at the GenX-GenZ generational conflict through parenting. Silver is a 15-year-old GenZer whose Riot Grrrl mom is recovering from brain cancer and punk rock father never learned to be a dad. She finds solace in her maternal grandparents, cousin-best friend, as well as her first boyfriend.
I fell in love with the book because of Silver's constant eye-rolling over her parents' GenX references. I busted out laughing when her father calls her Frances Bean, because well, Silver is a bit of a punk rock-riot grrrl princess as her parents were (her father remains) famous in those circles. Her parents admonish her generation for caring too much about what people think and Silver constantly recalls her mother's famous bleeding out on stage moment or stunt that is legendary in the family.
As with many great young adult novels, Silver's summer break is what frames this novel. She is sent to live with her father across town in Milwaukee while her mother recovers from surgery. There she learns more about her father and his inability to move on from his punk rock days. At the same time she discovers the sexist manner in which her father's career is held up as legendary while her mother's influence has faded to a whisper. In the forefront is Silver's first big romance and how she goes from idealizing her boyfriend to a rude awakening when he fails to support her in Silver's moment of need. The honest depiction of a teen romance was beautiful. The awkwardness of connecting to the fumbles of expressing it. Wittmann was genius in building up Silver's boyfriend and then when he disappoints her, depicting Silver's reliance on the wisdom her mom instilled in a manner only a Riot Grrrl (inspired) mom could.
CW for family dysfunction and physical violence. Wittmann stays well within the approved plot lines for young women to grow up by having Silver be assaulted, but not raped. The travails that Silver endures with her parents and typical boyfriend stuff is enough of a hero's journey without having to include an assault. This is the one disappointing part of the novel, but it does serve as a wake up call to Silver's father to get his paternal act in order. But I look forward to the day when we do not need physical assault or threat of rape for young women's transformation. This is more a critique of the overall genre than this book.
All that said, I do recommend this book for teens and parents alike. I've already assigned it to my 14yo for her summer reading. Silver's insight into GenZ thinking was enlightening to this GenX mom. Maybe my daughter will gain a bit more insight into her GenX mom through this book. Even if I'm the farthest thing from Courtney Love.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Kelly Wittmann for reaching out to offer me a review copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review.
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