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Growing Up Fast    by Joanna Lipper order for
Growing Up Fast
by Joanna Lipper
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Lipper is a documentary filmmaker. Growing Up Fast, her first book, is about six teenage mothers who live in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Lipper met each of the six young women - Amy, Liz, Shayla, Jessica, Sheri and Colleen - and she filmed an award-winning documentary about their lives, as well as writing this book.

Pittsfield is an economically depressed city that began to decline when General Electric (GE) pulled most of its business out in the mid-1980's. Unemployment rates skyrocketed and caused a steady economic decline of the area. Environmental problems were uncovered in GE's wake, which drove Pittsfield into further decline. During this time period, the six women featured in the book were young children. Their own parents were enduring financial hardships in Pittsfield, where drug use became commonplace. Most of the girls grew up in families with parents who had their own set of problems, many of which were a product of the area's economic decline.

Lipper does a thorough job of laying the background of Pittsfield and how it would have affected these young women. Most of them did not look forward to a bright future, and some thought a baby would add love and a sense of purpose to their lives. The book is divided into sections on the young mothers. Each has a different story, although common themes of depression, family conflicts, domestic violence, child abuse, drug use and lack of a parental role model run through their lives. Now that they are mothers themselves, they have responsibilities to deal with parenthood and raising a child - often without the help of the baby's father.

This is a thought-provoking book, with stories that were heartbreaking at times. I liked the fact that Lipper included a few photos of the mothers and their babies, and that she followed the lives of these women over the course of four years. While many people may be quick to solely blame young teen mothers for unplanned (or planned) pregnancies, Growing Up Fast got me thinking about how society plays a role in what it offers - and does not offer - to young women with no safety net and no soft place to fall.

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