Sunday, April 06, 2008

Diary of A Young Girl


Frank, Anne. 1952. The Diary of A Young Girl.

"You're reading that again?" That's what my mother said as she caught me reading Anne Frank. Like I haven't read anything but this one book in all these years. She's right. I have read Anne Frank's Diary of A Young Girl before. But some things are worth repeating. Diary of A Young Girl is one of them. The first time I read this book, I would have been in high school. Close enough to Anne's age to feel it--the drama of adolescence on top of extreme political and social upheaval. The Diary of A Young Girl captures both. The war. The threat of death. The threat of captivity. The threat of starvation and disease. But it also captures youth. What it means to be young, to be at that ever-awkward stage in life, in development. Always a me-in-the-making, never quite done finding out who you are and what you believe and what you want out of life. Anne could be any girl in any place and time. But because she was born a Jew. Because Hitler came to power. Her life--her perfectly ordinary life--was cut short.

The book begins in June of 1942. The last entry is in August of 1944. In these two years, these two turbulent years, Anne and her family and several other people as well all go into hiding in the Secret Annexe. Mr. and Mrs. Frank. Margot, the older sister. Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan. Their son Peter. And Mr. Dussel. Eight people. Cramped living conditions. This isn't reality tv. This is life and death. Yes, every person gets super-cranky and super-sensitive. But wouldn't you?

The reader gets a glimpse into the lives of real people through the eyes of one very young sometimes-mature, sometimes-immature girl. Anne Frank. Very famous now because of her diary. But just then--at the moment--one very ordinary girl with a natural desire to write a diary. I think most kids (or teens) at one time or another try their hand at keeping journals. Though perhaps now, blogging has replaced all that. Diaries are intimate, personal, private. Each entry is a snapshot into that one day, that one hour, that one moment. When you're young, (and even when you're older and supposedly all grown up) your mood, your outlook changes moment by moment, day by day. Happy one minute, miserable the next. Such is the case with Anne. Personally, I'm surprised that Anne had as many happy moments, contented moments, grateful moment in the Annexe as she did. I think it would only be natural to be unhappy, scared, miserable, depressed. Living in cramped quarters with people you dislike, people you disagree with, not being able to go outside, to go anywhere you want. Not having the freedom to move, to make noise when you want. To always be on alert. To always worry about the threat of discovery, the threat of capture, the threat of bombs blowing you to bits. High stress. Very high stress.

But this isn't just a book about war, about being Jewish, about being a victim. This book is so much more than that. It's a book about growing up. A book about changing from a girl into a young woman with hopes and dreams and fears and desires. It's a book about being that age. That extremely awkward stage of life. My mom thought all people of that age should be shipped off to junior high island until they grew out of it. That moody, I-hate-you, you-don't-understand-me stage. Anne was a work-in-progress. There's no doubt about it. When we first meet her, she's entering that phase of life. She doesn't get along with her mother. At all. She feels completely disconnected from her. Misunderstood. Unloved. Unwanted. Unappreciated. And her relationship with her father is better, but not perfect. Sometimes she feels the disconnect with him too. And her sister. She feels that her parents love her sister more. That her sister gets all the praise, the love, the positive attention. And she feels that she gets attacked, bombarded with negative attention--lectures, lectures, more lectures. Everyone is always out-to-get-her. But though this does seem to be Anne's story, Anne's predicament, by the second half of the book, Anne is growing, changing, maturing. She looks back over past entries and realizes that things are different, things have changed. And she realizes that most of the changes were in her. She is beginning to build, to establish a better relationship with her family. She is beginning to get comfortable in her own skin.

Anne is someone I think we all can relate to in a way. Anne was just a girl. A girl with interests and hobbies. Likes and dislikes. She could be anybody.

The Diary of A Young Girl was originally published in Holland in 1947. It was soon translated into other languages, including English, and printed in the United States. 1952 is the first publication date for the United States. Almost from the very beginning, it was recognized as a good book, a powerful book, a book worthy of time and attention and respect. But it's not without its enemies.

Though I'll never in a million years understand the mindset of those that challenge books, I'll never ever ever understand why Diary of A Young Girl is one of their targets. I just don't understand it. Can't understand it. One challenge brought against the book stated that it was pornographic. How??? Why??? Fortunately, the challenge failed, and the book stayed on the shelves. I suppose pornography is subjective. But a young girl writing about her period is so not pornographic! A young girl writing about her breasts developing? Not pornographic. A young girl writing about her first kiss? Not pornographic. There is no talk, no hint of sex in the book. Though Anne spends the last part of the book making out with Peter, the son of the Van Daans. But it's not pornographic in the slightest. Not unless it's the mention of Anne reading a book where there is mention of a woman selling her body. Or perhaps it is the conversation about the cat's male organs that is so offensive to folks? Whether the cat is a tom cat.

I could go on for hours about all the suffering the war has brought, but then I would only make myself more dejected. There is nothing we can do but wait as calmly as we can till the misery comes to an end. Jews and Christians wait, the whole earth waits, and there are many who wait for death. (64)

I see the eight of us with our "Secret Annexe" as if we were a little piece of blue heaven, surrounded by heavy black rain clouds. The round, clearly defined spot where we stand is still safe, but the clouds gather more closely about us and the circle which separates us from the approaching danger closes more and more tightly. (115)

But seriously, it would seem quite funny ten years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here. Although I tell you [the diary] a lot, still even so, you only know very little of our lives. (192)

And if I haven't any talent for writing books or newspaper articles, well, then I can always write for myself. . . I want to go on living after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much. (197)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

6 comments:

Sarah Miller 8:53 PM  

Have you read the Defnitive Edition that was retranslated in 1995? It's super -- 30% more material. And it sounds like you're an Anne-junkie like me, so I bet you'd be fascinated with the Critical Edition as well.

Becky 9:06 PM  

Thanks for the links, Sarah! I didn't know about the new editions. Onto the wish list the definitive edition goes. I'd have to really really save to be able to afford the critical one!

But you're right, I am an Anne-junkie. I love reading about the holocaust.

Sarah Miller 9:33 PM  

Keep an eye out -- I got my Revised Critical Edition on Overstock.com for a very reasonable price.

The unrevised Critical Edition might be even cheaper, but it's missing a few entries.


Have you read Mara's Stories, by Gary D. Schmidt?

Jeane 1:01 PM  

I read this back in high school, too. Then years later I read a different edition. Apparently her father edited the diary quite a bit and later a version was published that contains more material. I can't remember which later edition I read, but I do remember a few passages where Anne was curious about her developing body and she and her sister touched each other- the other things you mentioned didn't seem very objectionable to me, but if I remember it right, the parts with her sister may have been what got it on the banned list. My memory's kind of fuzzy on it all, though.

Becky 1:49 PM  

Jeane, you must be right. The one that is so common, so standard is different than this newer recently published edition. I haven't read the new one yet. I may try to get to it soon.

The older challenges would not have been discussing this new edition with the more-objectionable content. But some of the newer ones may be.

I haven't read it like I said but her father probably did edit out some of the things that would make it more objectionable to readers.

Even with the new content, however, I'm not a book banner or challenger.

I wonder if/when schools use this as required reading if it is the new or old edition that they use. (The one everyone grew up with.) Just wondering. I also wonder if the new edition, the "definitive" edition is replacing the other as the 'classic,' the 'standard.' Will it be accepted as THE edition in future years???

Sarah Miller 6:06 PM  

The scene Jeane remembers is indeed part of the original edition published in 1947. During a sleepover, Anne suggested that she and her friend (it may have been Jacqueline Van Maarsen) touch each other's breasts as proof of their friendship. Her friend refused. Fade out.

The Definitive Edition does include more about Anne's sexuality and menstruation, but also some less-than-flattering passages about her family and the others in hiding. Otto Frank was juggling both the sexual taboos of the time and respect for the dead.

To my knowledge, the original "Diary of a Young Girl" is still the edition most commonly used in schools.

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