The Girl Factory by Karen Dietrich
Author Karen Dietrich grows up before our very eyes in this explicit coming of age tale. Like peeling away the layers of an onion, Dietrich starts by introducing us to her small, working class family: mother, father, and older sister Linda, who reside in the factory town of Connellsville, just outside of Pittsburgh. Her parents toil away on opposite shifts at the local glass plant. In the early days little Karen is her mother’s whole world which swirls with obsessive and bizarre behaviors, old wives’ tales, and superstitions. Karen does not see this as a particularly strange way to live and even feels compelled to share her mother’s neuroses even at that tender age.
The first three chapters roll along quietly and comfortably as Karen describes a rather familiar and predictable life in elementary school. But there’s no turning back after reading about Karen’s obsession with The Dewpoint. This sudden awareness of her budding sexuality sets the tone for the rest of the memoir. After a shooting happens at the glass factory and her parents’ lives take a turn for the worst, Karen and Linda are left to fend for themselves emotionally. Desperate to find love Karen resorts to an alarming amount of suggestive behaviors trying to win friends both male and female. As she tries to emulate the promiscuous behaviors of her more popular classmates you can’t help but feel the pulse of adolescent frustration with the turn of every page.
Traveling with Karen through her lonely teenage years almost forces the reader to return to their own high school experiences to compare and contrast early childhood memories. At the end of the memoir she leaves us wondering whether or not she had any regrets and leaves an open enough ending to make you wonder if she’ll write a sequel someday. We are left with Karen making some brave decisions as she emerges into young adulthood and the mystery of whether those decisions were the right ones to make. This haunting book unflinchingly portrays a young girl’s yearning for love and the desperate measures she took to achieve it.
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