"Look at that," Karen Stabiner has always proclaimed proudly
regarding her daughter Sarah's first smile, word, step, and other
milestones. In MY GIRL, she sets out, in the same spirit of awe and
respect, to record her life with Sarah, from the age of ten to
fourteen. As Sarah approaches the tween stage, Stabiner does not
believe the "universal truth" that living with an adolescent
daughter is misery. She chooses to believe instead the many mothers
who confide in her that they take great pleasure in their young
Refreshingly and reassuringly, Stabiner passionately proclaims that
most girls are not in trouble. She reminds us that a majority of
adolescent girls do not have an eating disorder, low self-esteem,
or depression. Most mothers and daughters enjoy each other's
However, Stabiner is realistic. She knows there will be spats and
hard feelings as her daughter grows up, as there are in any
relationship. She seeks only to avoid long-lasting smoldering
We vicariously share the many small and large moments between
mother and daughter. Stabiner agonizes over a call home during a
business trip alone, in which Sarah asks if they can both stay on
the line all night. There are high points to be remembered with joy
and low points from which to learn during a mother/daughter trip to
Italy. Stabiner and her husband decide whether or not to buy the
too-expensive horse of Sarah's dreams.
Mile markers of change appear as time rolls by. Sarah no longer
asks for a nightlight, and she starts saying "Mom" instead of
"Mommy." As poignant as these signs are, Stabiner ponders that they
happened imperceptibly --- she notices many changes only in
retrospect. However, what she remembers and reflects on is stunning
in its detail and scope.
"We raise them to go away from us," Stabiner's friend and fellow
mom, Annette, tells her. That theme of letting go --- how necessary
and how difficult it is --- threads through the book. When Stabiner
speaks of the parental obligation to allow their children to
stumble (and sometimes to fall) in order to learn to be
independent, she says ruefully, "It was our job to sit still, even
as it was our instinct to rush forward."
The author lays down her own life with her daughter for us to enjoy
and contemplate, while also placing it in society's larger picture.
She includes facts about families and research on adolescent girls.
She also reflects on her relationship with her own parents, and
Sarah's connection with her father. The science and flashbacks are
seamlessly woven into the narrative.
From first page to last, Karen and Sarah's story is pure pleasure,
guaranteed to make you smile, laugh, and also cry. MY GIRL gives us
a fascinating glimpse into a loving relationship and offers an
important message of hope. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 12, 2011