Girls in Trouble

by Caroline Leavitt

GIRLS IN TROUBLE has numerous strengths and some weaknesses, but
from the moment I began reading I thought, "This would make a great
movie; boy, this would be a terrific movie." Given the fact that
Leavitt has had books optioned for the screen before (all the way
to the script being written), I don't think she wrote GIRLS IN
TROUBLE with the goal of seeing it filmed; I think the movie-ready
feel of the book is because her characters are so vivid and fully
realized that they practically walk out of the pages.

Sixteen-year-old Sara Rothman refuses to acknowledge her pregnancy
until she's well past the stage of having any option besides giving
birth. Her slightly seedy boyfriend is on the lam, her starchy
parents are horrified that their honor-student daughter has strayed
from the college path, and the only people who radiate approval are
Eva and George Rivers, the would-be birth parents. Before long,
Sara has practically relocated to Eva and George's warm,
comfortable, open lifestyle, in which she --- the birth mother ---
has a starring role. Feted with delicious food, little comforts and
plenty of verbal encouragement, Sara seems to be living in a fairy
tale for unwed mothers.

Leavitt, of course, is too savvy a storyteller to allow the fairy
tale to progress much further without a foray into the big, dark
scary forest. Stung by rejection when the Rivers become preoccupied
with new baby Anne, Sara exercises the kind of bad judgment people
make when they're truly lonely (no spoiler here; besides, it isn't
hard to guess what Sara might do). Leavitt is a microsurgeon of the
choices we make that determine our lives' paths; the adult Sara,
older Eva and adolescent Anne all square with the characters we met
earlier in the novel.

In part, that is due to Leavitt's intimate knowledge of her
subject: she wrote an essay for Salon called "Dating the Birth
Mother," about her and writer/husband Jeff Tamarkin's forays into
open adoption. While the couple ultimately chose to forego adopting
a child, Leavitt found herself fascinated by the teenagers she
spoke to and created the character of Sara: "And the more I talked
to these girls, the more I began to feel that some of them yearned
for something more than just a good home for their babies. They
yearned for me. They wanted to be a part of my family because here
was the one place where they were getting approval, where they
could be sixteen and wrest back a bit of that sixteen-year-old life
without even a hint of disapproval," she wrote for

From that yearning, Leavitt has created a novel that is as
compulsively readable as a can of Pringles is snackable --- but
unlike the Pringles, filled with substance. In the middle, perhaps,
is a bit of airy filler; as in her previous book, COMING BACK TO
ME, Leavitt runs into a spot of trouble trying to transcribe the
passage of time (in that book it was while the protagonist lay in a
hospital bed that the action wavered). Perhaps that's because, like
her readers, she is eager to get back to the meat of the story, the
back-and-forth, the tug-of-war, the push-me, pull-you of parenting
in all its stages and guises. In that eagerness, too many loose
ends get tied up too neatly, too quickly.

However, no matter what its flaws, this book is real and true. When
so many books published now are technically adequate but soulless,
that should count for a great deal. Maybe a movie deal?

Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 22, 2011

Girls in Trouble
by Caroline Leavitt

  • Publication Date: January 19, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312271220
  • ISBN-13: 9780312271220