Thursday, July 16, 2015

‘Smart Girl’s Guide to God, Guys, and the Galaxy’ (Book Review)

Growing up, I read a lot of neat little books – both Christian and secular, both good and bad – advising how to dress, act, and survive the teenage years. That might have been ages ago, but I confess that genre can still pique my interest. So it’s no wonder that I picked up a copy of Smart Girl’s Guide to God, Guys, and the Galaxy: Save the Drama! and 100 Other Practical Tips for Teens (Shiloh Run Press, 2014) after stumbling across it online. Authored by Susie Shellenberger, editor of the now defunct BRIO and Sisterhood Magazine, and stand-up comedienne Kristin Weber, Smart Girl’s Guide promises helpful advice with a dash of humor.

To be honest, I expected a lot more from Smart Girl’s Guide. While there are a few unexpected gems, like “Take an apologetics course,” much of the advice – and the reasoning behind it – is cliché: Respect your parents. Study your Bible. Dress modestly. Trust God rather than peers. In a huge market like young adult nonfiction, something unique is needed to make one book stand out from all the competitors, either in the topics covered or in how the advice is offered. Smart Girl’s Guide appears to have neither. It’s just another fish in the sea.

That’s not to say that the authors didn’t put a lot of effort into it. It just doesn’t really show. The content is generally boring, and the jokes tend to fall flat. It would’ve been easily improved by organizing the hodgepodge of tips around particular themes and eliminating some of the vagueness and repetition. There’s also room for expansion. I would’ve also liked to see lists of suggested books and classic movies that aren’t limited to a few of the authors’ favorites. And some of the tips require more research to actually carry them out. That might not seem like a big deal, but guides like this should aim to be comprehensive, requiring little additional work so that the kids will actually complete the tasks.

I also thought that the perspective offered was often too adult. Kids should be learning how to protect their personal information online and manage online account settings, not relying on a crutch like a junk email account to handle spam. They shouldn’t be signing up for online contests anyway considering the legal age requirements. And while window shopping at a mall might be a waste of time for the authors, it’s a convenient and relatively safe activity for teens. The authors’ alternative – hiking in the wilderness, with no mention of getting a chaperone – might sound like a great idea to many non-parents, but it’s probably one of the most unsafe things teen girls could do.

Another part that needed work was the titled advice about dealing with the opposite sex. “Have guy ‘friends,’ not boyfriends” sounds like a brochure headline for a one-way trip to the “friend zone.” And trust me, don’t ever go there. It’s lonely. I’m not saying girls can’t have male friends, but they often want more than that. They want attention, love, and sex. Those are biological realities, and God’s responsible for them. We need to quit pretending that these desires don’t exist or that they are somehow abnormal or bad. Instead, show teens how to be more selective in whom they date. Promote group and chaperoned dates to avoid being put in compromising positions. And encourage more honest parent-teen talks about things like sexual temptation and pornography. Since dating is probably the main topic of interest to most teen girls, I think that the authors missed a huge opportunity to make a real impact on their readers’ lives.

Perhaps my expectations were a little high, but nevertheless I was left disappointed. And that’s rather unfortunate because, of all the books in the series, Smart Girl’s Guide has the most potential. Teen girls eat up this kind of stuff, and their parents will often buy it for them. A book marketed to teen boys (The Guy's Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket), their mothers (The Savvy Mom's Guide to Sons), or teen girls’ fathers (The Smart Dad's Guide to Daughters) are more likely to sit on the shelf.