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A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence [Paperback]

By Patricia Hersch (Author)
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Item description for A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence by Patricia Hersch...

Draws on three years of observation and conversation with a group of teenagers from a common American town to portray today's adolescents as a society unto themselves

Publishers Description
For three fascinating, disturbing years, writer Patricia Hersch journeyed inside a world that is as familiar as our own children and yet as alien as some exotic culture--the world of adolescence. As a silent, attentive partner, she followed eight teenagers in the typically American town of Reston, Virginia, listening to their stories, observing their rituals, watching them fulfill their dreams and enact their tragedies. What she found was that America's teens have fashioned a fully defined culture that adults neither see nor imagine--a culture of unprecedented freedom and baffling complexity, a culture with rules but no structure, values but no clear morality, codes but no consistency.

Is it society itself that has created this separate teen community? Resigned to the attitude that adolescents simply live in "a tribe apart," adults have pulled away, relinquishing responsibility and supervision, allowing the unhealthy behaviors of teens to flourish. Ultimately, this rift between adults and teenagers robs both generations of meaningful connections. For everyone's world is made richer and more challenging by having adolescents in it.
"A contemporary masterpiece."
--The Philadelphia Inquirer

"[A] BREAKTHROUGH PORTRAIT OF ADOLESCENT CULTURE . . . It is here--not in the pages of dry psychology books--where parents and educators will find the secret, painful truths hidden by modern-day adolescents."
--Boston Herald

"SPLENDID AND POWERFUL . . . [Hersch] doesn't preach and doesn't sugar-coat. But boy, does she shake us awake."
--Chicago Sun-Times

"AN INSIGHTFUL, MOVING AND STRIKINGLY HONEST LOOK AT TODAY'S ADOLESCENTS . . . Hersch has allowed the teenagers themselves to tell their stories. . . . While A Tribe Apart should be required reading for all parents and educators, it is also a must-read for anyone who desires a greater understanding of a generation standing on the brink of adulthood."
--San Diego Union-Tribune

1. With what perception of today's teenagers did you open A Tribe Apart?
On what were your views based--interaction, media depictions, memories? What opinions underwent the most change during your reading? Which beliefs were confirmed?

2. How does the title of the book's prologue, Alone, function as one of the work's central themes? What contributes to the solitude of the teenagers profiled? How does it differ from student to student? What is novel about the loneliness of today's teenagers? How can a parent or mentor address the matter?

3. A 1989 study by the Carnegie Council of Adolescent Development concluded that every other American teenager faces serious risk, such as unprotected sex, dropping out of school, and substance abuse. What does A Tribe Apart accomplish in putting a face to the statistics? What is the place of a work that attempts a nuanced discussion of complex issues in a culture enamored of the quickness and neatness of numbers and summaries?

4. To tell the story behind the statistics, Patricia Hersch employs many devices of writing we often associate with the genre of fiction: narrative arc, strong character development, and detailed setting, among others. How does A Tribe Apart challenge your view of nonfiction? What is gained--or lost--in borrowing devices from fiction?

5. Often we value works of nonfiction for their dispassionate treatment of subject. Subjectivity, however, seems inescapable. What sort of objectivity does Hersch achieve in her work? In what ways does the author's character surface in her writing? How does such authorial presence illuminate or obscure the work?

6. What does each individual profile reveal about the role that families, schools, and friendship play in shaping an adolescent's character? Can one influence compensate adequately for the absence or brokenness of another?

7. While crises and dramatic moments tend to receive attention in a young person's life, the significance of the day's quieter moments is often overlooked. What connection between the quotidian and the critical does A Tribe Apart proffer?

8. Rebellion appears as an important lost outlet for today's adolescents, given the absence of adults and clear boundaries of conduct. What is the result of such an absence? What fills the void? Is a return to definitions of ethical and moral behavior possible in these seemingly relativistic times? What relationship do you perceive between adult morality and adolescent morality?

9. One is tempted to regard as anomalous some of the experiences chronicled in A Tribe Apart. What prevents one from accepting these eight lives as representative? In what is our tendency to deny the reality and relevance of these lives rooted?

10. What does A Tribe Apart reveal about the role music and film play in shaping a young person's perspective on sex and other supposed doorways to the adult world? Is entertainment a red herring, or is its influence considerable?

11. What portrait of adults emerges from your reading of A Tribe Apart? Do you perceive individuals caught up in dizzying societal changes while trying to navigate the trying paths of parenthood? Or are people incapable of or unwilling to move away from a perilous selfishness to acknowledge their weighty responsibilities? Which parents appear to succeed?

12. Discuss the credibility of the events comprising the lives chronicled. How does Hersch handle the adolescent's predilection for rendering his or her life in dramatic terms? What sections of the book prove more resonant? Why?

13. Consider your teenage years in light of the lives depicted in A Tribe Apart. What trials remain consistently at the heart of the adolescent experience? What trials strike you as unprecedented? What complicating factors have moved from the margins to the center of the passage? Do you perceive recognizable cycles and shifts more than abstruse, novel challenges? What is the role of your past in understanding the lives chronicled here?

14. Given the emotional range of A Tribe Apart, discuss the book's tone. Is it consistent, or does Hersch shift tone throughout to fit the tenor of the subject at hand? Point to passages of either harmony or discord between subject and expression and discuss the effect.

15. What aspects of the teenage experience most resist explanation? What mysteries persist despite Hersch's exacting inquiry? Did you put down A Tribe Apart believing more or less in the precariousness of adolescence?

16. A Tribe Apart raises the red flag of a dangerous absence of dialogue between teenagers and adults. Propose possibilities for undoing the disconnect. What is the role of the individual in initiating such change?

17. What connection do you perceive between the risks taken by the teenagers of A Tribe Apart and the escalating violence at schools throughout the country? Are the students killing students a tribe apart from the teens depicted here?

18. Discuss the role of gender, race, class, and family structure vis-à-vis the lives chronicled in A Tribe Apart.

19. Did you put down A Tribe Apart with a measure of despair or of hopefulness? Do you perceive the society depicted here as moving in a linear fashion toward greater disconnect with its adolescents, or is there reason to believe that a pendulum motion, that is, a return to meaningful engagement with teens, is possible?

20. In her epilogue Hersch writes that among the adolescents profiled, those who manage best "have a strong interactive family and a web of relationships and activities that surround them consistently." What changes must take place on both an individual and societal level to put this web in place for more teenagers?

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Ballantine Books
Pages   391
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.27" Width: 5.54" Height: 0.9"
Weight:   0.85 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 3, 1999
Publisher   Ballantine Books
ISBN  034543594X  
ISBN13  9780345435941  

Availability  4 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 22, 2016 03:19.
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More About Patricia Hersch

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Hersch is a contributing editor to Psychology Today.

Patricia Hersch currently resides in Reston, in the state of Virginia.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Mental Health > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > 20th Century > 1945 - Present
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Sociology > General
4Books > Subjects > Parenting & Families > Family Relationships > General
5Books > Subjects > Parenting & Families > Parenting > Teenagers

Christian Product Categories
Books > Christian Living > Relationships > Family Concerns

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Reviews - What do customers think about A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence?

Recommend this, even though it is dated  Aug 9, 2007
The existing reviews cover many of the crucial points, though I would like to reiterate how parents and teachers could benefit from the insights these teens provide.

It's often too tempting for adults to measure the success of our youth with illusionary criteria, avoiding what's at the heart of things. I found the teen's accounts of their lives and Patricia Hersch's conclusions realistic and hopeful.

Though there are some tough scenarios, overall the reader is left with a spirit of assurance that youth is an amazingly resilient time of life and a few cultural corrections can make the difference between dire consequences and an aspired future.
A Tribe Apart  May 15, 2007
A very interesting and captivating book. The best alternative to a text for a graduate level Adolecent Behavior course.
compelling  Feb 5, 2007
Partrica Hersch is on a mission. In her book A Tribe Apart, an in-depth study of the lives, behaviors, and opinions of eight adolescents, Hersch argues that today's teenagers are victims of an uncaring, un-involved adult community. Hersch's teens, for the most part, raise themselves. They grapple with adult-sized problems such as abortion, drug use, crime, physical abuse, and neglect--all while facing the "normal" slings and arrows of adolescence. Teens solve the problems they face with very little adult interaction, with the educators, parents, and other adult mentors conspicuously absent. Hersch concludes that today's teens don't exist in a moral vacuum, as social critics might suggest. Instead, she presents teens who reason, debate, and make choices--all without adult guidance or support. The adults who populate the teens' worlds are neglectful--ranging from abusive stepparents, over-worked mothers, self-absorbed fathers, or educators more concerned with discipline and control than forming relationships with kids. It is little wonder that the decisions they make are poor ones. While I do agree with other reviewers that Hersch makes wide-sweeping generalizations about teens and their relationships to adults based upon a limited sample, her point that teens are facing increasingly trecherous problems alone is well-taken. It's easy to feel demoralized after reading A Tribe Apart, and one wonders how adolescence will continue to devovle in the coming decade.
A look from inside  Dec 6, 2006
I've seen people say this book does not cover the mainstream or is not the best read, but I would disagree. Hersch takes the time to listen, to let 8 students tell their story. I was in high school at the time when this book was being published, and it is much more accurate that most adults care to realize. It is a narrative, but it is an accurate look at the millennial generation. The only other book that I have seen to compete in accuracy would be 'Hurt' by Chap Clark, but it is more of an academic read. Anyway, if you care for an inside look of adolescence, here is your chance.
Easy read, But Not Revolutionary  May 11, 2006
A Tribe Apart by Patricia Hersch was a revolutionary book for its time period: 1996. Now, ten years later, I am not sure if the information presented is all that revolutionary. The research for this book was completed when I was in middle and high schools, and now I am the teacher, so how can many of the issues be as new and extreme if I, and many teachers I know, have experienced many of these issues already? Hersch does an excellent job exposing the "normalities" of high school students in the mid 1990's; I am curious if a current study would reveal the same findings. The themes she explores that I do not think have faded away with the turn of the century are the distance between adults and adolescents, the multitude of adult issues our adolescents have to cope with, and the need for peer acceptance over all other needs.

While at the same time deserting our adolescent generation, Hersch says that society has also managed to load them with adult responsibilities. Teens are more often aware of their parents problems, and are being forced to deal with issues far beyond their capabilities. I see that these issues have not faded with time in my conversation with my students. Some of my sixth graders tell me stories about being evicted from apartments or their parents' credit card debt, and I can see that Hersch's research still rings true.
Despite the latter basic truths to Hersch's research, she describes many outdated practices of adolescents such as "mosh pits", the "wamma" culture, the clothing, and the attitudes of some of the students. I think that some of many practices she explored have been replaced with more dangerous and exaggerated ones: rap culture, "hanging out" on the streets for younger and younger students, and increased exposure to societal pressures. In the 1990's, I feel like there were more opportunities for adolescents to thrive and experience life in safe environments. Now, the budget cuts that Hersch mentions very briefly are a country-wide phenomenon. Schools everywhere are experiencing cuts of after-school clubs, music, art, physical education, and sports; not just city schools. This pushes our adolescents further and further into their own world, making Hersch's findings only the beginning. Now, I think that a researcher would find the danger has escalated and children younger than what would be considered "adolescence" are experiencing these kinds of problems.
The way Hersch engulfs herself inside the life of each of her case studies, makes the reader feel as if the adolescents themselves were telling their own stories. So if you are looking for an interesting and entertaining sociological text, A Tribe Apart is a great read. But if you interested in getting a peek inside the minds of your students or teenage kids, I suggest you pick up a more recent text.

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