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Mental Disorders

by Bett Williams
Griffin, 1998
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 13th 2001

Girl Walking BackwardsSkye is 16, and her mother is unstable and unsupportive -- joining new age cults and insisting that her daughter should stop talking about being a lesbian. Skye is trying to make sense of her place in the world, or at least, trying to work out how to survive in it. Skye is trying to make friends, but although she can be honest with her boyfriend, that's a relationship without a future. Skye's new friend Jessica is fascinating to her, but Jessica has too many problems of her own to really be there for Skye. All around Skye her friends and acquaintances are experimenting with sex, drugs, and self-mutiliation. By the end of the novel, two people close to Skye are in psychiatric wards.

So you might be surprised to learn that I found this a reassuring heart-warming story. Even though Skye's troubles are utterly different from the ones I have experienced, the author Bett Williams' writing is so simple and her description of detail so convincing that I found it easy to identify with Skye. Although I'm not in a great position to judge the accuracy of the Williams' depiction of California teen life in the late 1990s, it rings true. Furthermore, there is something universal about the search for love, security, and friends by children from dysfunctional families (and what other kind of family is there?) Skye goes from crisis to crisis, but she learns from her experience, and she finds people she can rely on. That's what I call a good story.

Of course, there's a question about who is going to read this book. Not all the people interested in "teen lesbians" are looking for subtle and accurate descriptions of the emotional struggles faced by young women in today's society. This book is a long way from pornography, but it is explicit and even erotic. Some parents migth not consider the book suitable for their children, although it is a safe bet that most teenagers have access to far more explicit and shocking material through their everyday surfing of the web, and many of them probably encounter sex, drugs, and violence in high schools on a regular basis. I can't imagine that Girl Walking Backwards would have a corrupting influence on any reader. It may help some readers who are experiencing similar issues to Skye, but for the most, the book's value will be as a well-crafted tale of contemporary life in North America.