First daughter Jenna Bush’s nonfiction book Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope won’t be published until October, but the galleys have just crossed our desk, and we are, well, perplexed. The 25-year-old has said she based the book on a series of interviews with a 17-year-old, HIV-positive unwed mother she befriended during her stint as a UNICEF volunteer in Latin America last year. The resulting book, aimed at teens and young adults, means to educate and inspire, but it shocked us for a couple of reasons.
First is its sexual frankness.The book ends with a lengthy appendix that includes several tips on how teens can protect themselves against AIDS and other STDs, and it includes sentences like this one: "Whether or not you choose to wait until your married or older to become sexually active, give yourself as much time as you need to make a well-thought-out and mature decision." (Since the book is still in galley form, the final text may read differently.) It’s hard enough to imagine President Bush signing off on his daughter’s decision to take an unpaid position with the dreaded United Nations, but to have her return and repudiate the administration’s position that the only kind of sex education kids should be taught is abstinence-only — why, next thing you know, she’ll be marching against the war and the repeal of the inheritance tax.
Even more shocking: the book is good.
Maybe too good. In fact, though there’s no ghostwriter listed, wehave a hard time imagining she wrote it herself. Not because nothing inher past anticssuggested she had a thoughtful, intellectual bent, or because sheoccasionally uses big words like "dichotomy" or references to thepaintings of Gauguin, but because the book is too smooth. Its languagehas a literary purity, and its narrative flows seamlessly back andforth between the interior and exterior lives of "Ana" and the peoplearound her, all of whom vividly remember offhand details of eventsgoing back to their early childhoods or verbatim quotations fromlong-ago conversations. It reads, in other words, like a very goodnovel for young teens; it’s hard to say even if "Ana" and the othersare real people, since the author has changed all their names (toprotect their privacy, she says) and doesn’t even name the city andcountry they live in.
Is it churlish for us to think this way? Suppose the whole book is abig fraud — doesn’t it still have the potential to educate largenumbers of teens? Then again, wasn’t that the argument that was made indefense of James Frey? What say you, PopWatchers?
UPDATE: D’oh! Commenters, don’t be so quick to blame that "your/you’re" error on Jenna Bush. That may have been my own transcription typo, not hers; I’ll have to go back to the galley and check. But even if that’s the book’s error, remember that this is a galley and that the text shouldn’t be considered final until the book comes out this fall. Then you may nitpick the book’s grammar and spelling to your heart’s content.