The Stardust Lounge: Stories from a Boy's Adolescence

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stardust_lounge.JPGby Deborah Digges
Anchor, 2002

This is a great book. You should read it. Seriously.

Deborah Digges is a single mother of two boys. This story is about her youngest son, Stephen. When the book starts, Stephen is 13 and he's in a lot of trouble. He's associated with gangs, doing drugs, carrying weapons, skipping school, in trouble with the police, the whole nine yards. Digges is desperate not only to turn her son around, but to regain her close relationship with him. In her desperation, she turns to whatever ideas she can grasp--Stephen is sent to live with his father, Digges tries to be more stern, military school is even considered. There are serious repercussions to Stephen's behavior and to Digges responses to it, including the ultimate break up of her second marriage.

Then, with the help of an unconventional therapist, Digges and Stephen both learn to stop trying to be the people they aren't and to embrace themselves and each other as the people they are. They move out of the city, they adopt a passel of pets, including a very high-maintenance bulldog with epilepsy. Digges serves as a foster parent to a friend of Stephen's who has been kicked out by his own parents. And Digges stops trying to get Stephen to obey rules that are only there for the sake of society and serve no real purpose. Digges focuses on what is actually fair and actually necessary. So while the teenage boys may stay up late and there may be dogs on the beds and cats coming in and out of the windows, some kind of peace is restored.

And it turns out OK. Stephen graduates from high school and goes to college. Trevor, Digges' foster son, gets his GED, gets a job, and moves into his own apartment. The animals are happy and live good lives. Digges eventually even meets another man and at the end of the book the two of them are cohabitating.

Digges writes about parenting, both the joys and the sorrows, in a way that is both realistic and enthralling. She truly loves her sons and loves being a mother to them, and she truly wants Stephen to do well not for the sake of her own pride, but for himself. She's not perfect and she never indicates that she thinks the route she takes is the only way to deal with a "difficult" child. She shows a willingness to learn right along side her son that I can't help but think is the hallmark of a great parent. The book is inspirational in that sense.

Another thing about it that is really wonderful is the importance than the Digges' animals play. Getting the first bulldog puppy, G.Q., is Digges first original and true to herself idea for how to help Stephen, and it does. The later adoption of Buster, the epileptic bulldog, with all of his many needs, cements Stephen's willingness and ability to be a responsible person. Both Digges and her son are clearly people who respond better to animals than they do to other people, and the book shows the beauty and grace in that, never even allowing for the idea that it is some kind of psychopathy.

Delinquent kids are very rarely given any kind of chance in our society. The book's characters, particularly Stephen and Trevor, are constantly butting their heads against a system that "has them pegged" and actively discourages them from succeeding in the ways in which they are able. It is a rare parent, however, who both assists her kids in bucking that system and still expects responsible and fair behavior from them. Digges never lowers her expectations of Stephen or Trevor, she just reevaluates what is really important, and it is both instructive and inspiring to watch that play out. I ended the book really feeling for the Digges family, happy to hear of both Stephen and Trevor's accomplishments, and seeing something of my own mother in Deborah, which is a very high compliment.

1 Comments

That sounds like a terrific book. I might look for it--though my own brother's problems might make the subject matter a little sensitive.

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