An American Childhood

by Annie Dillard

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Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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An American Childhood makes a unique contribution to the art of writing biography. Clearly, to Dillard the details of romance or rivalries or fashions signify less than the furniture of one’s mind and the hunger of one’s spirit. Awakening into consciousness matters more than the onset of puberty. Through such a rearrange-ment of priorities, Dillard offers the young reader a refreshing and eminently valuable variation on the more typical biography. Her book reminds one of the depth of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) by James Joyce and even more of the richness, vitality, and verbal brilliance of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) by Maya Angelou. Most of all, however, the book’s joyous celebration of aliveness recalls the story of Helen Keller in The Story of My Life (1903), the story of a transforming awakening to another world that holds wonders and mysteries, terrors and ecstasy. An American Childhood issues a timely invitation to a real life of high adventure and therefore is a much-needed book for those young readers who grow up on the television and film versions of adventure.

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