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Friday, November 02, 2007

Without a Map

Hall, Meredith. Without a Map: A Memoir. A review book (nonfiction) from Anna, this one sat around for a long time, buried under the various stacks. Hall's story is one of lost and found. All that she lost as a pregnant teenager in the 1960's, and all that she found as she gradually sorted out her life.

Hall writes beautifully and tells a tale that rarely happens in today's society. After getting pregnant at 16, she allowed her baby to be given away, and was cast out by her family. Her story is a series of memories (essays?) and moves not in chronological time, but back and forth through the years as she gathers her strength and her forgiveness.

I remember only two girls who got pregnant when I was in high school (and there were over 800 in my graduating class). I remember because the school allowed them to attend for only a short time before they had to go somewhere else to complete school. Where? I haven't thought about this in years, but remember being stunned that the girls 1) got pregnant and 2) were not allowed to attend school. There were probably a few other girls in the same situation, but at the time, teenage pregnancy was kept secretive. Even if parents were supportive, and Hall's were certainly not, there was a huge stigma and an attempt to keep things quiet.

Hall begins her story:

Even now, I talk too much and too loud, claiming ground, afraid that I will disappear from this life, too, from this time of being mother and teacher and friend. That It--everything I care about, that I believe in, that defines and reassures me-- will be wrenched from me again.

In her community, she says, everyone knew about husbands who cheated on their wives, parents who abused their children, men and women who were lazy and irresponsible and slovenly. All of these individuals were tolerated, but when she was 16, Hall found that family, church, and school all turned their backs on her. All of the people who had embraced her, who had praised and cared for her as a child shunned her.

Hall's family, her parents were divorced and her father had remarried at the time of her pregnancy, was dysfunctional. At the time, however, she didn't realize this, and their treatment came as a shock, a disillusionment, and an isolation almost overwhelming for a teenage girl.

In this memoir, Hall relates the journey through those years and the struggle to become a person in her own right, to regain a sense of worth, to overcome her grief. In her late 30's, Hall decides to go to college, and she graduates from Bowdoin College. She currently teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire.

Her story is one of attempting to understand the events that led from 1965 to the present. Without a Map is beautifully written and introspective. It is full of blame and redemption, penance and, finally, safe harbor. While I found the first half of the book very, very good, I think it went on too long and became repetitive. Her descriptions of the 1960's and 1970's are accurate and interesting, and I admire Hall's persistence in overcoming the damage incurred, but think the book would have been better served with some judicious editing. And frankly, although I can admire Hall's willingness to take in and care for her aged and ill parents (first her mother and later, her father), it is much more than I could have mustered for people who treated her so badly.

Nonfiction. Memoir. 2007. 220 pages.


  1. Jenclair, this book sounds quite interesting. You wrote a very nice review of it. I was in high school in the '70's but I remember a few girls who had to go to the "alternative" school when they became pregnant. It sounds sad that her family abandoned her at such a critical time. Such a waste. I'll have to look this one up and see if we have it in the library.

  2. Wow! Things are a lot different today aren't they? I graduated high school in 1998 and had at least 2 in my class of 140 students that were pregnant our senior year. There were others older than me too I remember. The books sounds interesting...Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Wow. My sister was pregnant her senior year of high school (through February), and there was a woman working for the school district whose job was to make sure pregnant high schoolers were completely accomodated. In fact, my sister was in JROTC, and she had a legal right to make them give her a modified uniform if she had wanted to keep participating as she got bigger! I think there were five or six other girls in the same boat her year (and this is a wealthy high school). I'm glad that things have changed. :)

  4. Kay -- It was interesting, but did get repetitious toward the end. Her parents weren't just angry and disappointed; they were so cold. Hall had a long way to go to overcome the damage.

    Kristina -- Things ARE different today. Although no one wants to see very young girls get pregnant, at least the stigma has lessened and those who do get pregnant aren't ostracized.

    Eva -- Can you imagine how frightening it must have been during a time that pregnant teenagers were almost "disappeared." Bad enough to face the whole pregnancy thing so young, but social shunning, and parents that were so ashamed they severed family connections... Things are definitely better.

  5. Oh this does sound good!! My high school was so small....75 in the whole school my senior year. We didn't have any pregnancies when I was there.

    Things certainly have changed. The high school my son will attend is close to 1200 students. I've heard there are at least 20 girls there that are pregnant right now. It's so scary these days.

  6. I remember being shocked when a very popular 9-grade girl (I was in 7th) became pregnant. It was the early 70's. Surprisingly she continued to attend. Now I think she showed a great deal of courage to continue her education in spite of what must have been a lot of opposition.

  7. Stephanie -- I think it is so sad when girls find themselves in this predicament. Having babies is such a lifetime commitment that I can't imagine having undertaken a pregnancy so young and without the joy my husband and I shared with our children. Still, at least fewer girls find themselves in Hall's isolation now.

    Framed -- It would have taken much more courage then, wouldn't it?

  8. Teenagers in the '60's had a huge disadvantage in that birth control wasn't readily available like it is today. I can only imagine the shock and horror her family felt when she told them she was pregnant, still, disowning her was so harsh, I don't know how they could sleep at night having done that to their daughter. I'm glad she found it in her to forgive her parents and offer them sanctuary when they needed it.

    A lovely review Jenclair, thank you!

  9. The comments here are amazing, and illustrate how much things have changed over the past few decades. I was in school on the cusp of this revolution. While I was there, my high school initiated a program to give students day care and support in their studies. It was revolutionary, and one of the top ten students in my graduating class did so as a teen mom.

    Meredith Hall posted a piece at our blog today. I hope you'll get a chance to take a look.


    Jessica Bennett
    Editor, Beacon Broadside

  10. Lotus -- Excellent point. The pill had just become available, and many parents wouldn't have encouraged its use anyway.

    Hall's parents were quite a pair. And the father's new wife was no better.

    Jessica -- Times have certainly changed. Students in the 60's, ostracized and students today, supported. Bad enough what happened to young girls in the 60's, but the punishment often extended to the babies as well.

    I'm off to your blog to check Hall's comment!

  11. Very interesting review. I'm going to have to try and find this book. I went to high school in the 80's and had a friend who we all knew to be pregnant. She left school and our small town for a time and upon returning we were all told that she had a large "tumor" removed.

  12. Paula -- And that was at least 15 years later! I wonder how many strange stories and explanations are out there.