Saturday, February 27, 2010

Riding in Cars with Boys

Riding in Cars with Boys is a memoir by Beverly Donofrio published in 1990 by Penguin. In the book, Donofrio finds herself pregnant while still in high school. She fore goes her plans to attend college and instead marries the father, Ray, and the three attempt to start a family. Her husband turns out to be a drug addict and is chronically unemployed; the two divorce, and Donofrio eventually attends college and moves with her son to New York City to pursue a career in writing. In 2001 Riding in Cars with Boys was made into a movie starring Drew Barrymore.

One thing that really struck me about this book were the cultural differences between 1963, the year when Donofrio found herself pregnant, and today. In the book, Donofrio's parents strongly encourage the teenage marriage. Today, many parents finding their daughters in the same position would unfortunately encourage her to have an abortion, and nearly all would encourage her give the baby up for adoption so that she could still pursue higher education.

Riding in Cars was written in two parts; the first seems to mostly recite the facts; the pregnancy, Beverly's marriage to Ray, her subsequent involvement in drugs, and the difficulties that she faced as a single mother pursuing a college degree. Part II takes place about fifteen years later, when she and her son have been living on their own for about twelve years in New York City, and is more of an analysis of her life. "I've been thinking lately that maybe there is a big design, that the end is there already in the beginning and there's nothing we can do about it, not even in a lifetime."

And she talks about Olivia, the women with crippled feet who lives down the hall. Olivia says, "Never got married because of my feet. I know three languages, but never travelled. I gave up religion because I am so bitter." Beverly herself concludes that Olivia "hobbled herself because of her belief about her feet."

In saying this, Beverly concludes that she herself found her own way out of the treachery of having a child as a teenager.

So much about this book was paradox; how Beverly's son crippled her own life, and yet she admits he was the best thing that happened to her. And the characters themselves; Beverly for being so foolish as to get pregnant in the first place, then getting into drugs, yet demonstrating so much determination to get herself through college, her good-hearted but totally worthless husband, and her parents for being so supportive yet almost cruelly merciless towards her predicament.

I liked that this was a story without a fairy tale ending; she didn't meet the man of her dreams in New York, she didn't get married in the end, she didn't become wildly wealthy or successful. It is such a relief to read a story as real as this one.
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