Learning From Lady Chatterley
Think 1950s: a time when movie starlets had coke bottle bodies, wavy hair, legs as long as the state of Florida. You get the picture, the picture that was everywhere but in the mirror propped on the dresser in Gloria’s sad bedroom in her make-do bungalow. To make matters worse she is the daughter of Italian immigrants in a Wonder Bread neighborhood.
What sets Gloria apart is the fact that she pays attention, enough attention to discover that the neighborhood local war hero is a pedophile, that her best friend’s mother is a Nazi sympathizer. What makes her different is what she learns from her father when the first black family moves into the neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, and what she learns about her own, sometimes dark heart when the homes of the affluent kids are literally picked up and moved to make way for the I-94 Expressway. What makes her different is what she learns from the books she sneaks out of the adult section of the public library. Books about love, sex, and sorrow.
What makes her just like every other girl is the crush she has on the neighborhood leather-clad bad-boy.
Written in accessible narrative verse, the subtle rhythms and metaphors are engaging. As a glimpse into the profound and often melancholy moments in a young girl’s life, the theme is timeless.
"I read Learning From Lady Chatterley from the land of adulthood, a long-time teacher of both high school and college students. It spoke truth to me about place and character and the exhilarating, harrowing journey of adolescence. Nixon-John’s writing was at once subtle and vivid, funny and pointed, full of meaningful payoffs of character, plot, and meaning.
Gloria, on the cusp of adolescence, tells her tale in accessible free verse, much in the vein of Karen Hesse’s classic Out of the Dust. Even though Gloria feels like an outcast, she holds a seed of strength. She’s smart and perceptive. She grows in self-confidence as she interprets life around her: the pleasurable, the painful, the confusing, even the evil as adults behave in ways harmful to children.
I’ll reread this book. I’ve ordered copies for friends. Were I teaching adolescents again, I’d get Learning From Lady Chatterley into the hands of my students. Seeing Gloria find her path might help them find theirs."
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