105 Ways to Give a Book

Teenage Angst and Poetry

I like lists. Not to-do lists: They terrify me to the very core of my being. I like have-done lists. My favorite have-done list is my list of children’s and young adult fiction. Every time I read a book, I look forward to adding it to my growing yearly list. So, when I find a book in verse, I do a little end-zone dance, because I can zip through that puppy in twenty minutes and slap it on the list.

The Geography of GirlhoodAnd that, I am embarrassed to say, was my first reaction to The Geography of Girlhood.

I took it outside to read on a sunny afternoon, and flew through the first section. Then I stopped, and realized how very, very good this book was, and I went back and read the first section again more slowly. I forced myself to take my time and really take in the powerful verse in this book. It is an incredible reflection of what is like to be in a girl entering high school and unsure of yourself, of your friends, and of your future. I was really moved.

I went to the website, but it was not working yet. So, I added another first to my list of firsts (yet another list of have-dones) and emailed the author, Kirsten Smith, to tell her that I thought the book was brilliant and ask her permission to include a couple of poems. Since she agreed, and is looking forward to which poems I choose, here are two that spoke to me.


Fourteen is like rotten candy,
fourteen is a joke that no one gets.
When you’re fourteen,
you look good only once a week
and it’s never on the day of the dance.
When you’re fourteen,
you have a mouthful of metal
that no one wants to taste.
Fourteen is going to bed at night
and wishing you could wake up with a new face
or a new dad or better yet,
a new life
that doesn’t look anything
like this one


Denise and Elaine don’t talk at all anymore.
They are like that cliff in town,
the one that’s sliding into the sea.

Geologists say the erosion was inevitable.
Nothing could stop it,
not with the rain and the wind the way it is.

Whether it’s soil or best friends,
things can’t help but slip away and disappear.
I guess nothing on the map ever stays fixed.
All you can do is make sure you’re not standing on it
when it goes.

There are some edgy, sexual references that lean the book as more appropriate for high-schoolers. Maybe fourteen-year-olds should read it, but the mothers of fourteen-year-olds definitely should so they can remember what their daughters are going through with perspective and sympathy.

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