After Puberty, What?

Notes of a Processed Brother

by Donald Reeves
Pantheon, 480 pp., $8.95

Twelve to Sixteen: Early Adolescence

edited by Stephen R. Graubard
Daedalus, 100, 4, 325 pp., $2.50 (to be published as a book by Norton this spring)

All three of these works have, as their subject, certain aspects of the life—of the very different lives—of young people today; mostly in America, though there are glimpses of Jamaica in Mr. Reeves’s book and some cross-cultural observation, chiefly in a paper by Joseph Douvan, “The Political Imagination of the Young Adolescent,” included in the Daedalus volume. Although many readers have wearied of thinking about the lives of the young, it must nevertheless be conceded that the topic retains an intrinsic importance, if the future is to have any at all. What Samuel Johnson once said of the city of London is even truer of the young: to be tired of them is to be tired of life. Messrs. Reeves, Bhaerman, and Denker clearly do not find themselves in this condition; about half the contributors to the Daedalus volume write as if they do.

As life is divided into stages in America, early adolescence is an important period. Yet the most important message these three works, taken together, convey has nothing to do with adolescence as such, but rather, with the much broader question of the relation of academic scholarship to knowledge and understanding of social and psychological processes. Most of the Daedalus issue is comprised of formal papers detailing the findings of properly conducted empirical investigations. But the last eighty pages of the book have been allotted to three more subjective chapters, as a kind of epilogue to the more respectable materials preceding them. The presence of these papers establishes that the editors of Daedalus indeed can, under circumstances that they deem fitting, admit into the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences—which is what Daedalus is; the Proceedings have been published in this form since 1958—subjective reflections upon individual experience similar in kind to those that fill the pages of Notes of a Processed Brother and No Particular Place To Go.

Notes of a Processed Brother is an irresistible book: a sprightly, straightforward, true tale of romance and adventure and of the tempering of youth by the bittersweet mixed experience of betrayal and inner triumph. It is also, despite the familiarity of the genre, a unique book. There is surely no other in which the hero-narrator is a black man now just twenty years old, whose trials of courage, devotion, and chivalry occurred in a New York City public high school, and who was, at the outset, not a rebel but a straight citizen and athlete (track). Much of the book recounts the frustrations that Reeves encountered and the attacks upon his character that he survived as president of the citywide general organization of New York City high-school students, which serves as a pretext for student government.

His crafty and treacherous foes are high-school administrators and, subsequently, members of the Board of Education and its bureaucracy. The beautiful maiden whose demands sap his strength and his love, and who ultimately abandons him cruelly and publicly, is no Carmen but a middle-class Jewish girl from the…

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