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The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence by Elliott Currie
320 pages Metropolitan Books February 2005 Hardcover rated 3 1/2 out of 5 stars   

There is a troubling dilemma in the suburbs. The sex, violence and drug use that once were associated with troubled lives in impoverished areas are thriving in staid middle class communities. And the young people involved in these activities take to them with a casual attitude punctuated by a shrug and a "whatever." To describe this attitude, Elliott Currie coins the term "care-lessness," a freedom from caring that becomes a prison all its own. The author sets out the chronicle the plight of these teenagers through an extensive research project focusing on interviews with teens who have lived through it all.

Time after time, Currie illustrates how society continually fails these troubled teens. In the home, we see parents taking tough love to such extremes that they renounce some of their fundamental responsibilities as a parent. In schools, we see the top student who was so hounded by the principal for dressing in a punk style that he eventually decided to just conform to these low expectations and the ridiculousness of policies that reward students with time away from school (in the form of suspensions and expulsions) for behavior like skipping school. And in society, we see a culture more focused on "fixing what's wrong with these kids," often through psychotropic drugs, than in trying to understand them. Too many people in positions of authority believe that the fault lies in the students, that some fundamental flaw in their character or morals has led to their drug use or drinking.

Unfortunately, Currie seems committed to his particular viewpoint to a fault. While he raises valid issues and proves his point, it seems that he goes a bit too far in placing no blame on the teens who gave in to bad influences. Saying, "it's society's fault" when a youth goes astray has become almost cliché in a time of blaming video games for violence and rock music for murderous rampages. While his interview subjects were certainly strong, resilient people who could have been saved with the right support, does every single teenager who turns to drugs and alcohol fit this model?

The most compelling moments in the book come via the teenagers' own words. Currie takes a necessary stance as interviewer and analyst, but there are several moments when he would have been better served by letting the stories stand on their own without the ensuing commentary. Currie's own views on the subject are most compelling and persuasive in the final chapter of the book where he sets out a plan that would lead "toward a culture of support." While his conclusions are firmly outside the mainstream, they warrant attention if we wish to help a deeply troubled generation.
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