Being a Teen by Jane Fonda, book review: A grown-up guide to the pleasures and perils of adolescence


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I would be lying if I said that, on seeing the cover of Jane Fonda's Being a Teen, I didn't have painful flashbacks of awkward sex education classes when I was 12 and 13. As a 17-year-year old, I have since had countless "birds and the bees" talks, so I needed to cast myself back to my pre-teen self to remember my questions then, and whether Fonda managed to answer them.

Firstly, the writing style is accessible for the age group and for both genders. The terminology is clarified by footnotes with phonetic pronunciations, because, let's face it, there's always an awkwardness between adults and teenagers when it comes to the sex talk, and some vocabulary can be omitted. While I raised my eyebrows at the simplistic writing style and the repetition of certain paragraphs at various points, this is easily forgiven easily, given that the book is clearly designed to be a "dip in" read. Fonda lists scientific research and resources, including charities and websites for further information, which consolidates the idea that the book is to be used as a FAQ guide, and is intended to inspire further inquisitiveness, and research.

I wasn't just impressed by the structure but also at how Fonda incorporates issues that bog-standard sex education lessons fail to address, most significantly, the overarching subject that sex comes under – identity. The most burning issue of puberty is finding out who you are, and this doesn't just mean discovering the finer details of the genitals you have. Discussing identity is something that younger teens worldwide need, because puberty can be a time of intense questioning, perhaps for the first time, and it can be unnerving. If there is a flaw with the concept of the book, it might be in the title which could more accurately have been "Becoming a Teen" rather than Being a Teen.

Fonda's active recognition of differences in people is commendable. In Chapter 12, she explains different sexual orientations, with the emphasis on the fact that differences are normal in life and persecution of people who are different is wrong. Knowledge is power, and if this acceptance is introduced during puberty, it can be key to the development of a well-rounded person who does not discriminate.

I would recommend this book to any parent of a young teen, or young teens themselves, who need to know the facts of life. It is a reliable source of information, clearly written by a woman with a dedicated passion to educating young people and who does not deny her own struggles and confusion as a teenager.