Playing With the Grown Ups
by Sophie Dahl


Doubleday, 2007. ISBN 978-0-385-52461-2.
Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
Posted on 09/04/2008

Fiction: Mainstream

Sophie Dahl's Playing With the Grown Ups begins in modern day New York, where Kitty is sleeping peacefully in bed with her husband. She then gets the dreaded middle-of-the-night phone call telling her that her mother, Marina, has been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Kitty takes the next flight to England and revisits the wild youth she has tried so desperately to escape.

Playing With the Grown Ups consists largely of Kitty's flashbacks. Her childhood was a mad dance of constant change, uncertainty, and her mother's never-ending search for meaning. Kitty was a normal girl until she moved to New York to be with her mother, whose Guru Swami-ji had told her to relocate and take up a career in painting. Kitty tried to act grown up too, wearing her mother's clothes, partying, and experimenting with sex and drugs. Kitty and her family became deeply involved in a Hindu-inspired commune led by Swami-ji and delved deeply into spirituality.

But their new life in New York is short lived. Swami-Ji tells the family to leave New York to avoid imminent "dark times." Marina moves her family to London to start over yet again, but there life became significantly worse. Kitty became involved in drugs and hanging out with the bad kids. By the time Kitty was 15, Marina was doing hard drugs with her daughter and nearly died in Kitty's arms of an overdose. Kitty decided then and there to stop playing "grown-up" and put herself and her future first. She moved back to the United States to start a new life at a boarding school in Connecticut.

This novel was thoroughly engaging. The constant whims of Marina were amusing and sad at the same time. She was a loving mother, but incredibly selfish as well. I wanted to strangle Marina and tell her to put her children's needs before her own. It was frustrating to see how lost the woman was and what a foul influence she was on her children. What sort of mother serves drugs at her daughter's party? Kitty grew up in chaos and experimented with the dark side of life along the way. I felt sorry for her as she struggled to find herself and relieved when she found her way out of her dead-end lifestyle. Had she not, she may have been the one in the hospital from a nervous breakdown instead of Marina. I loved Dahl's fictional memoir format and the detail she put into the storyline. She made a story that could have been dull and depressing a comic read that's hard to put down. I only wish this novel was longer. You'll be touched by Kitty's bravery and strength as she overcomes obstacles and grows into an independent young woman as well.


Sophie Dahl is an English fashion model and author. In 2003 she published the small book The Man With the Dancing Eyes. Dahl has written for The Guardian and Vogue and is at present a contributing editor at Men's Vogue. Her grandfather was Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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