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“I used to love reading girls’ teenage romances, I’ve always had an interest in old rock ’n’ roll, and I like to watch old TV shows,” says Brookland author and self-described baby boomer Grace Palladino. “So the idea of sitting at the library and reading [back issues of] Seventeen for hours on end seemed intriguing.” She pored over archives on coming-of-age in America from the 1930s through the ’90s, sent book proposals to a few publishing companies, and ultimately wrote Teenagers: An American History for Basic Books.
Palladino’s interest in teen rebellion, consumerism, and activism stems not from what she experienced but from what she missed during her formative years on Staten Island, N.Y.C. “I didn’t have a chance to be a teenager,” she admits. “I went to a Catholic girls’ high school, not a progressive school in any sense. It was very strict, and I was very skinny and young-looking until I was 20. My teenage years began with college.”
She became, instead, “an observer of the teen experience.” In her time away from the University of Maryland, where she works as a historian, Palladino amassed enough data to imagine what it was like to grow up in the decades between WWII and the Summer of Love. But yellowed magazines and black-and-white TV segments are no substitute for one-to-one conversation with authentic 13-to-18-year-olds. Teenagers gives a stiff, bookish account of teendom, based on historical documents (and, therefore, stodgy grown-ups’ opinions) rather than firsthand findings.—Nathalie op de Beeck