Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Diary of a Young Girl

1952, probably early 1980s Pocket Books edition
Anne Frank
The Diary of a Young Girl
Original price $2.25, see below
Falling apart paperback

The inside cover has my name in cursive that's bolder than what I write now but still recognizable.  The stamp says this is a gift from my junior high PTA.  So the book is at least 30 years old.  By the time it was assigned in high school, I'd read it at least twice, and I've reread it a few times over the years.

This time, while I see Anne's (justified) fears of being captured by the Nazis, I mostly see a girl who is a bright but in some ways typical adolescent, 13- to 15-years-old, trapped with a set of people that she sometimes gets along with and sometimes doesn't.   Like many teens (and adults), she rants about how people get on her nerves, although she's able to look back, maybe minutes later but usually months later, and see things from another perspective.  While on the surface a bubbly, popular girl, she's also very introspective, made more so by the circumstance of never going outside for two years.

Anne thinks about serious issues and wishes she had someone other than "Kitty" (her diary) to confide in.  Both her father and Peter, the boy a few years older than herself that she grows fond of, disappoint her in different ways.  Peter is of course the only eligible boy around, and there's an implication that they probably wouldn't have got involved in normal life, but their young love is sweet.  Despite the concerns and teasing of the adults, they kiss and cuddle.

Anne is, excuse the pun, very frank, including about sexual feelings.  I remember two of the six boys in my high school Advanced English class objecting to the "lesbian" part of her diary.  (No, they didn't think it was "hot."  The '80s were a weird time.)  Anne discusses her attraction to and curiosity about other girls.  I don't think she was bisexual, although it's impossible to say since her father edited out some of the sexual content on the advice of the original Dutch publishers.  The 1995 English translation is based on an unexpurgated text, but I haven't read it.  The American Library Association says there have been six challenges to the diary since 1990, due to "complaints about its sexual content and homosexual themes." 

This is sort of a side issue.  Anne was a whole person, and the diary reveals different sides, including her sense of humor, as shown in little essays and stories.  There are many complaints on Amazon about her complaining, but that didn't really bother me because, one, I'm a complainer (if you haven't guessed by now); two, her gripes were mostly justified; three, she was writing in her diary; and four, she also could be very upbeat and positive.

So what are my complaints about the book, why don't I rate it higher?  Two things.  I don't think the tragedy of her life makes the book better, since this isn't about her life in Bergen-Belsen, and it feels uneven in that over half the book is from the 1944 entries.  On the one hand, I can understand that she didn't always have something to write about, but on the other, it feels weird that she'll sometimes skip over a month.  It's a good book but I don't think a great one.  However, for a girl in her young teens, it's impressive, and it remains an inspiring document of life under oppression.

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