A Tribe Apart

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For over three years Patricia Hersch immersed herself in the lives of eight teenagers in her hometown of Reston, Virginia, trying to understand what teenagers were feeling and thinking in today’s society. The results, presented in A TRIBE APART: A JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF AMERICAN ADOLESCENCE, should be required reading for every parent. Hersch paints an unflinching, and at times very disturbing, portrait of the adolescent world.

What makes Hersch’s book unique is the way these teens open up to her, giving an inside view to a person that would normally be considered an outsider to their community. Their frankness about sex, drug use, depression, and the secret lives that their parents do not know about casts them as a modern-day lost generation, blindly seeking their way in a constantly-changing world with no guideposts to aid them except each other. The guideposts they want, in the form of some sort of adult interaction and attention, are the one thing they desire above all else but cannot seem to get.

Like adolescence itself, the book is full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that many of them actually do go on to relatively normal, focused lives, even though their actions would make the reader think otherwise. Most importantly, Hersch shows teenagers not as an anonymous group but as individuals with their own thoughts, feelings and experiences. A TRIBE APART is both fascinating and painfully heartbreaking, but it does ultimately offer hope that all is not lost.