Paula Danziger Jane Langton - Essay

Jane Langton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?"] takes place in the airless chamber of early adolescence.

The heavy problems of Lauren and Linda and Bonnie are: 1) Does it hurt to get your ears pierced? 2) Should ninth-grade girls go out with eighth-grade boys? 3) Should fifth-grade girls wear training bras?

The atmosphere is close and sweaty and mildly titillating, with cute boys on the telephone, copulating Ken and Barbie dolls, hair appearing or not appearing under the arm, and parents who are always fighting and deserve to be sued for malpractice….

[The book] is clever and funny. The chapters rush by in a catapulting present tense. Adolescent and preadolescent girls, and even chubby children who might otherwise be reading "Winnie-the-Pooh," will giggle and pass it from hand to hand.

The author is a junior-high-school teacher, and she might say that the book is an honest picture and that she does, after all, wave some kind of flag for decency and general morals. But the flag is about the size of the Barbie doll's bikini. Case in point: As Zack and Lauren go upstairs to his room "to study," Zack's "nice" mother warns them kittenishly not to "study too hard." Oh, civilization! Oh, chastity! Oh, a hundred years of chaperones on Sunday afternoon park benches! Oh, the creak of the bedsprings as Lauren and Zack lie down! Six minutes later they sit up. What have they been doing? The world of early adolescence is certainly hot and perspiring and scruffy. Open the window, somebody.

Jane Langton, "Children's Books: 'Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?'" in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 17, 1979, p. 25.