I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Obviously the title refers to sex, and so I thought that Not That Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer, published in 2009, might be a ribald memoir about sex. Religious girl goes wild, gives up God, discovers sex, that sort of thing. But it really isn't. It's not that kind of book. Actually, it's rather low-key in the sex arena, which makes it sexier in a way, at least to me. But I have a problem with memoirs. Many memoir writers, I think, believe they must reveal all the sordid details of their pasts, far more than you'd really care to know about. Isn't that why many write them, to purge themselves of the past? In some cases, their stories may help those with similar struggles. When I read such a memoir, though, I often feel a bit guilty because I've not had the same problems growing up. (Has everyone had a difficult past?) Some of us have led less tumultuous lives, which are interesting in more subtle ways. This is the case with writer Carlene Bauer, who recounts her struggles with religion and sex, and those between the intellectual, the "bookish" (she is quite well-read) and the corporeal.
Carlene's memoir begins with her childhood in suburban New Jersey, a sensitive, anxious child who fears the "Jersey Devil", and attends Christian school. As she matures, her status as a devout Christian changes and she begins to question her beliefs.
"My Christian education taught me that you could take the tiny pliant soul out of the world, but the world would find the tiny pliant soul. Some girls would get pregnant before they graduated. Some would become alcoholics. Some would make local headlines for nearly starving their children to death. Some would get married and have affairs. Some would move to New York and give up on God. We were all a lesson in the impossibility of peace of mind and purity of heart."
~Not That Kind of Girl, Carlene Bauer
In high school and college, she questions her faith in God and her values, and moves to NYC after attending Johns Hopkins University, to pursue a writing career. Although NY changes her, she is still "reluctant to use certain four-letter words" and is responsible rather than reckless. In her story, she also searches for something akin to love, for something sacred in a city where perhaps nothing is deemed sacred.
Overall, I found this book to be understated and introspective, as if written under the influence of chamomile tea during stormy nights. Carlene's quest seems to be in part a yearning for a meaningful connection with a partner, preferably someone she can discuss religion and literature with. The author is modest but not overly self-effacing, and manages to view herself with enough distance to write with humor, intelligence, and grace. This is a quiet, thoughtful memoir to be enjoyed, guilt-free.
Special thanks to Trish from TLC and Harper Perennial for including me on this tour. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's Not That Kind of Girl blog tour.