Book Review: “Ask Me Anything (Heartfelt Answers to 65 Anonymous Questions from Teenage Girls)” by Rebecca Sparrow, University of Queensland Press (2015)
My life, as the mother of a gorgeous 12 year old girl, is a challenging one, bringing with it more than its share of ups and downs. Sometimes, it seems, the pair of us are caught in the middle of a hormonal hurricane. Powerful and utterly volatile, I can almost feel myself holding my breath at times with the gravity of it. However, most of the time I feel blessed and in tremendous awe at the amazing person that my daughter is growing into. I also feel pretty thankful for the fact that, in these challenges, she is surrounded by an army of female nurturers; grandmothers, aunts and older female cousins. Indeed, women are not in short supply in my family. It is heartening to know that through all the ups and downs of adolescence she has a cache of women that she can go to for encouragement and advice.
Whilst the above situation is ideal, too often this is not the reality for many young girls growing into womanhood in 2015. For a range of reasons, too numerous to address here, many teenage girls can find themselves walking through this stage of their lives alone, or without advisors who really have their best interests at heart. Rebecca Sparrow’s lovely little book Ask Me Anything addresses this gap perfectly. As a notable columnist, Sparrow, found herself frequently speaking to large groups of high school students on the topics of writing, resilience and relationships. In the process of this she would invite the students to “ask me anything”, along with an invitation to write the questions down anonymously. Questions collected through this form the foundation for the book, with advice grouped under the following headings; Friendship, Life, Love and Family.
While the concept of such a book is not ground breaking (I recall reading similar type books when I was growing up in the late 80’s), there always exists a need for quality resilience focused books, to replace those which have since become outdated. Sparrow’s book is indeed a book of great quality that will resonate effectively with this emerging generation of young women. As a critic of books for children and young adults I constantly ask the question, why does a book work, or indeed, why does it fail? In many cases, as with this one, success can be found in the presence of a relatable voice. Sparrow deserves huge ticks for this. While being careful not to mimic the voice of her audience, she has adopted the measured rhetoric of the older, but definitely cooler, aunt. This voice is always sincere, frequently compassionate and never condescending. It is a voice that doesn’t pretend to be the fountain of all knowledge. In fact, she sometimes refers questions to others, those with specialist knowledge in these areas. Most importantly, the voice in this book is one which believes in the abilities of the young people, both to make to make right choices and to make a difference in the world.
Many books of this kind dedicate large chapters specifically to issues of sexuality. While Sparrow does not shy away from such questions, the strength of this book is in how she addresses the messy, often all-encompassing issues related to friendships and fitting in. Sparrow provides sensible answers to the questions which dominate the majority of the social landscape of classrooms on a daily basis. I only wish this book was around when I was growing up, perhaps then, I wouldn’t have minded that I wasn’t in the popular group, leaving me in a better space to actually enjoy my high school experience.
As a reviewer my book shelves were long ago groaning under the weight of too many books. It follows then that most of the books I read I pass on to my school library. I couldn’t bring myself to do this with this one. It is too special. Instead, I placed it into my daughter’s hands with the simple message, “keep it close, you’ll be needing it often.”