Margaret Sartor compiled Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secret, and Growing Up in the 1970s from diaries she kept as a teenager. She limited the editing to changing names to protect privacy and organizing a bit for clarity. I admit I wasn't sure how revealing or readable teenage diary entries could be. To my surprise, the diary style and authenticity adds to the depth by reminding me of what it feels like to think like a teenager.
The story begins just before Margaret (Maggie) starts eighth grade in 1972. At that time, Maggie lives in Monroe, Louisiana, with her parents, Bobby Sue and Dr. Tom, two older sisters and a younger brother. Her upper middle class southern lifestyle is only noted in facts mentioned in passing, such as "I rode my horse to the levee today". Maggie's focus is on the roller coaster ride through puberty's questions without answers and on new experiences.
Her diary entries provide unvarnished descriptions that throw open a window into Maggie's thoughts, emotions, and behavior. At times, her reactions are funny, and typical, as in the reaction to her mother's unplanned pregnancy.
"...haven't you ever heard of having your tubes tied?"
"I can't believe my mother is pregnant. She's forty-four and Daddy is fifty-four and a lot could go wrong. They're too old. We all are."
At other times, Maggie journals unexpectedly mature thoughts.
"I think Emily Dickinson cut herself off from the world because that was the only way she could have a spiritual life that wasn't distorted by other people's expectations of her."
Most of us remember our youth with a selective memory. Maggie doesn't hide anything. She shares her record of every experience from religion (a time of Christian evangelism) to sex (real and imagined) to homosexuality (her best friend) to racial relations (oh, the complicated south and days of desegregation) and more. Maggie's diary entries reflect the daily realities of her life from 1972 through 1977. She also includes a satisfying wrap-up called "What Happened Next". A story like this really needs that peek into the future to feel complete, and Maggie knew it.
Miss American Pie provides entertaining, yet thought provoking, material about teen decisions, social behavior in the 70s—and now, and the decisions made in later years. Male and female readers who were teenagers in the 1970s will connect with Maggie's experiences in very personal ways.
Margaret Sartor is a writer and photographer, who is married and has two children. She lives in Durham, North Carolina and teaches at Duke University in the Center for Documentary Studies. Margaret's photos of her hometown and family appear in a number of books and periodicals. Her work also wins many awards and appears in permanent collections. Visit her website.
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