mini book reviews, part 2 (of 2)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith
5 stars

what a romp! grahame-smith (also the author of the similarly-genred pride and prejudice and zombies, which he “co-authored” with jane austen!), constructs a fantastical tale, from the fictitious journals of old abe himself, of the entire life of our 16th president. the true parts, the historic stuff, is based in fact. but this story adds the secret life of lincoln, as one of america’s best vampire hunters. his passion for killing vampires (born out of his own mother’s death at the hand — or drops of blood, as it were) becomes the driving force behind most of abe’s public life, including his presidency and his passion for abolishing slavery (which he hates at face value, for the reasons we would all know, but also because he comes to understand that slavery is supported by a nasty network of vampires and slave traders, for their own feeding purposes). no question, this book is dark! but i got a total kick out of reading it.

Wonder Boys: A Novel, by Michael Chabon
3.5 stars

on a recent trip to guatemala, i finished another book too quickly, and realized i couldn’t stomach the long flights home without a book. so i found my way to a large bookstore that had a few shelves of english titles. this book caught my eye, since i’d read chabon’s the yiddish policeman’s union, and knew he won the pulitzer prize for the amazing adventures if kavelier and clay (which i still need to read, at some point). wonder boys is about a pot-smoking, burned out professor/fiction writer (with some moderate success in his past), who can’t seem to finish his current novel (currently at 2600 pages, and only about 40% through his intended storyline). the lead character takes a young, conflicted writing student under his battered and malfunctioning wing, simultaneously corrupting him and promoting him to his first book deal. the whole thing takes place in a couple days, and is a snapshot of a guy who makes continual bad choices and doesn’t have the stones to own up to them; that is, until the partially-redemptive ending, where there’s at least a hint of phoenix-like resolve emerging from the complete pile of ashes he’s made of his life). a bit depressing, to be sure, but still well-written.

Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence, by Robert Epstein
5 stars

more than any other single book i have read in the past decade, this book has rocked my thinking about youth and youth ministry. epstein’s contention — extremely well documented — that we “infantilize” teenagers, keeping them in a protracted form of childhood, resonated with me (not that it sits easily, though, or is simple in any way). he claims (and, again, documents) that adolescence as we know it in the states (and, increasingly, in cultures impacted by american adolescent culture and the systems that exist to perpetuate it), does not exist in many, if not most, cultures around the world. we have invented it, and we are lengthening it, keeping teenagers (and now young adults) from living into the adult world that most of them possess the competencies for. the stereotypical brooding, emotionally-volatile, irresponsible, short-sighted teenager is a creation of our own invention. this book will call for a longer post or two from me, i think, than i have space for here. but i’ll say this: if i’ve ever said another book was a must-read for parents and youth workers, ignore that, until you have read this book. i’m already thinking, almost daily, about the implications for my own home (with two teenagers), my small group of 7th grade guys, and the many arenas i have for speaking to and (occasionally) influencing the thinking and practice of youth workers.

8 thoughts on “mini book reviews, part 2 (of 2)”

  1. Marko,
    Does this book and some of the research put into question what we have read in primal teen and brain research? it seems to me that we can and have made some correlation’s between the brain research and maturity that may rub against this? i haven’t read it yet so i am just wondering.

  2. Marko,
    I finished Teen 2.0 just last week and it’s already having implications in our ministry in little ways. I’m trying to summarize the points for presentations to our volunteer team and for parents.

    I still have questions about many of Epstein’s points that will require further research, but his overall concept on the infantalization of teens is certainly valid and is already affecting the ways I approach our summer trips and fall programming.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this and the dialog that emerges in student ministry!

  3. Scott, Dr. Epstein’s position on the “teen brain” is that the concept is a myth not backed by scientific evidence. His research shows that teenagers often show greater mental acuity than adults. Dr. Epstein presents his views on teen brain development in “Teen 2.0,” and you can see an article on teen brain issues that he wrote for Scientific American Mind here:

    Full disclosure: I’m an employee of the Dr. Epstein’s publisher.

  4. I just wanted to thank you, very sincerely, for your kind words about my new book. As for the “teen brain” idea, it has no merit at all scientifically – none whatsoever, no matter the headlines tell you. I know this because I’m a researcher myself and also an expert on research design. I’ve read the original studies and have even spoken with the key researchers. The simple fact that teen brains are a bit different than adult brains (just as the brains of 30-year-olds are a bit different than the brains of 40-year-olds) means nothing at all. The fact that differences exist in the brain tells us nothing about the causes of teen turmoil; no one has ever conducted a study that shows a causal link between properties of the teen brain and the turmoil they experience in our society. The indisputable fact that teen turmoil is entirely absent in more than 100 cultures around the world – that fact alone demonstrates unequivocally that the turmoil we see in the U.S. is a creation of our culture, not an inevitable outcome of brain development. The concept of the defective teen brain is pushed by drug companies that want us to buy their products for out teens – which, unfortunately, we’re now doing at a furious rate. We now spend more on psychoactive drugs for our teens than on all other prescription medications combined, including acne medication and antibiotics. Again, my sincere thanks.

  5. i would love to continue this conversation but there may be a better place other than Marko’s comments. There may be a little bit of confusion on what i was trying to ask marko but would like your thoughts on those. is there another site or we can do this via e-mail.

  6. Ok thanks Marko…Dr. Epstein the part that i was originally asking Marko but not to clearly was about the thought of the frontal lobe developing in the years of puberty. Does your research contradict that ? I am wondering about that because that (in my opinion) does have some connection with maturity. So my question was specifically on brain development in someone going through puberty and some of the research on brain development that has been done specifically. if you could address that i would greatly appreciate it.
    I would agree that our culture has brought about turmoil and/or really not expecting them (adolescents) to be able to do more or accomplish more. After all Jesus was (about) 13 when he was answering questions of the priests in the synagogue.

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