HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?
Author: M. E. Kerr
Publisher: Skyscape, reprinted in 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0761455455 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0761455450 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0761458395 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0761458395 Paperback
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: * One star (very poor)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Kerr, M. E. If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? (published in 1973 by Harper and Row Publishers Inc., New York City, NY; republished in 1974 by Laurel Leaf Library, a trademark of Dell Publishing Co. Inc., 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York City, NY 10017). Sixteen year old Alan Bennett lives in Cayuta, NY, with his mother Alice who is a hostess for a Welcome Wagon type organization called Finger Lakes Friends, and grandfather who runs Bennett’s Department Store. Alan’s father, Ken Kinney, had married his mother on the rebound of a romance with a girl named Pam, but then turned around and ran off with Pam before Alan was born. Alan is a senior in high school and says, “I’m the most popular boy at Cayuta High. Very handsome. Very cool. Dynamite.” He is going steady with Leah Pennington and is all set for his senior year to be the best year ever. Then Duncan (Dunc) Stein shows up. Dunc’s parents have moved to Cayuta to open up Rushing Farm, a treatment center for alcoholics. The gangly, homely Dunc is everything Alan is not and at first is nicknamed “Doomed” by his classmates. Alan thinks he’s a total joke. Then Stein invents an underground school newspaper called Remote, with personal romance ads which everyone wants to imitate. Suddenly, Stein is most wanted himself, even by Alan’s own girlfriend! Meanwhile, Alan’s dad wants to get to know his son better and has him come to New York City for a weekend, but that doesn’t go too well. While he’s gone, can Alan possibly lose his girl to such a freak as Dunc?
As to language, some profanity (“for Chrissake” and “My God”), a lot of cursing with the “d” and “h” words used frequently, and even a little vulgarity (such as the “s” word and referring to a guy’s a**) all occur. Nearly every adult smokes cigarettes. There is quite a bit of drinking alcohol, even by underage Alan. Also, dating, going steady, school dances, and after-dance parties in the homes of kids “who had the darkest basement, or the most rooms to find some privacy in” are an important part of the plot. Before I read it, I would have thought that this book might have more sexuality in it, but some is found even if not overt. A love affair between Dunc’s mother and the school football coach seems to develop. A girl makes a joke about having “social intercourse” but not “sexual intercourse.” Alan develops a crush on Dunc’s mother and “even had fantasies of making love to her.” And when Alan writes about the night he and Leah decide to go steady, he says, “The rest of the scene is too personal,” and explains, “It’s a story about people and how their minds work, not a story about how their bodies work. Most people’s bodies work pretty much the same way, and the clothes on their bodies come off in pretty much the same way.” I try not to read too much between the lines, but I have to wonder about the reference to clothes coming off. I have to admit that the author writes in a way that tells an interesting story and keeps the reader’s attention. However, this fact does not necessarily make a story good and worth reading. It is a very worldly tale about very worldly people.
I suppose that If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? is intended to portray the kind of growing up angst that teens felt especially in the early 1970s. Believe me, I know all about it—I was there. Assuming that the plot is set fairly contemporary to the publishing date, Alan’s senior year would have been around 1972-1973, and my senior year was 1971-1972. It is painful to see Alan’s fall from winner to weiner; one actually feels a little sorry for him, but he does admit that some of it is his own fault, the result of his inflated attitude of himself. The action may depict the experiences of many high school students of that era, though not mine. Yet for godly young people who are being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, I can’t see that this would have any relevance to their lives. Alan and his family do go to church, but it doesn’t seem to have much impact on his thinking. Solomon said, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:8). I realize that not every situation in life wraps up neatly and “happily ever after,” and if that’s the kind of book that you’re looking for, this one certainly isn’t it; but youth is a time to rejoice, not to read depressing novels like this one. M. E. Kerr is an alias for Marijane Meaker. Under that pseudonym she has produced over twenty novels for young adults and won multiple awards. If the rest are like this one, I plan to stay away from them.