It’s not often that I feel embarrassed after reading a book. Yeah, maybe sometimes when I picked a romance that was a little…steamier than I had imagined. But I can’t recall a book that left me embarrassed because it completely corrected some preconceived notions.
Yet that’s exactly how I felt after reading Crystal Kirgiss’ book In Search of Adolescence. I was a firm and loyal part of the ‘adolescence is a modern cultural construct’ tribe and boy, did this book prove me wrong.
Crystal Kirgiss shows with great humor and dogged determination that adolescence has been around for a while. As in hundreds of years. And not only has it been around, scholars, writers, and preachers have documented it—which she shows in amusing detail in this book. The fact that she’s both a long time youth worker and a professor in medieval language and literature is a knock-out combination in this case.
I have to admit that the laugh-out-loud moments (her analysis of medieval adolescent clothes was particularly funny) somewhat ameliorated my embarrassment at being proven wrong. Still, it stings. I have a degree in history for crying out loud: I should have known better than to carelessly repeat the conclusions of others. Oh well. At least I was in good company.
Anyways, this short book (133 pages) is a quick and entertaining read, despite diving deep into old texts and literature in Latin and old English. Crystal explores what these texts say and depict about adolescence. Some of it sounds awfully familiar by the way, despite the older and more formal words.
The question ‘Why does it matter’ is one that is answered in the last chapter. And it’s a solid question, because you may wonder why it matters how we think about adolescence and whether or not we believe/feel/think/are convinced it’s a modern construct or not. You’ll have to read the whole thing to get to the core, but for me the essence was perspective. We gain a new, deeper perspective on both adolescence and on doing youth ministry when we see both in their rightful history. To me, that’s the true value of the book. Maybe it’s not as practical as a how-to type of book, but nevertheless deeply inspiring and challenging.