* Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (1992)

I wrote down the title of this book when I was reading a book called Great Books for High School Kids.  Yikes.  I can’t quite imagine teaching this to high school kids, but the teacher who wrote about it taught it in an elective women’s lit class.  She always had more students than desks and her students ranged from Ivy League bound to those struggling to finish high school.  Clearly she’s a brilliant teacher, and part of being a brilliant teacher is choosing materials that students will embrace and dig into.  So here’s  the story of Bone.  In chapter one we learn about her birth as a “bastard child” and by the end of the book she’s maybe in her early teens.  Her mom was 14 or 15 when she was born and a whopping 21 when she marries for the third time.  Bone’s younger sister has a different father–he’s somewhere in between Bone’s father and the man who enters their lives when Bone is 7 or so.  There’s some humor in the story–Bone’s uncles and aunts are an eccentric bunch, but mostly this is just a heartbreaking story that’s very hard to stomach.  In a nutshell, it’s a story of need, of sex, of drinking, of incest, of masturbation, of fear, of betrayal.  Some really tough and uncomfortable issues to bring up in a class discussion.  Then again, there’s a lot to learn here.  I admire the teacher who chose to start her year with this book.  But I’d have to follow it with something lighter, a lot less depressing.  Fiction.

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