In 1972, an eighteen-year-old girl from New Hampshire wrote an essay for the New York Times, entitled “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life.” Within days of the article’s publication, many letters came pouring in – requests for other articles, offers to go on television, and offers to meet with editors. One offer culminated in Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties – an expansion of the article she had written for the “Times.”
In this memoir, the young woman, Joyce Maynard, wrote about her experiences growing up in a time when the world was changing dramatically – a world shaped by political activism, war, drugs, and women’s liberation – and how such events, plus the constant media presence, dictated how a generation perceived the world.
Speaking as one person affected by these complex changes in our culture, Ms. Maynard describes coming of age in such a time as “growing old.” Perhaps a kind of cynicism, or world-weariness from the constant barrage of images from television impacted her view of the world – and the view shared by many of her peers.
Nevertheless, she also illustrates her growing-up years with the “normal” kinds of experiences – the same insecurities and fears – that shadow most young people. She also points out in her foreword that she does not consider herself to have been “representative” of the typical experience of youth in her time. In fact, she states that the act of writing about these experiences in a way “sets a person apart from the territory of which she speaks.”
It is impossible for me to read this book, however, and not relate to it as someone having lived through similar experiences. Not the experience of living in New Hampshire or having written a book at a young age, but the commonality of fears and insecurities that hound most young people in any time, but especially in an age (such as the sixties) when change was dramatic and constant.
I had read this book many years ago, but in rereading it recently, I still could relate to it. Ms. Maynard’s fiction is compelling, as well, including the novel To Die For…But her memoirs (another is At Home in the World: A Memoir), are erudite studies of growing up female in the Baby Boom generation.