Notes From the Front when the Front Is Home

Thea Joselow '96 punctuates her conversation with laughter, as when she says that she's been so busy these days, she forgot to apply to graduate school. Precommencement schedules being what they are, one can understand if the added duties incumbent upon a first-time author have left her in a bit of a haze.

Thea has written, with her mother, Beth Baruch Joselow, When Divorce Hits Home: Keeping Yourself Together when Your Family Comes Apart, just published by Avon Books. The book offers advice and comfort to the second-generation survivors of divorce--the children.

In her introduction, Thea gets right to the point:

"This is not a book for people who are getting divorced. This is not a book for the lawyers, friends, or pets of people who are getting divorced. This is a book for the children of people who are getting divorced. You didn't have any say in whether it was a good idea for your parents to get married in the first place, and more than likely you were not consulted when they decided not to stay married. You were, however, directly implicated in the whole thing. Why shouldn't you have a book just for you?"

Divorce affects some 45 percent of American children, according to recent statistics. It is to this audience that Thea and her mother speak--with well-placed humor and a directness that is at once unflinching and graceful--dispensing wisdom hard-won at the front lines.

Thea's parents divorced when she was 16; her younger brothers were 12 and 6. Had her own book been available to her at the time, she says it would have helped, "once I figured out it wasn't [written by] some professional talking down to me."

This absence of the credentialed, social-scientist voice is one of the book's particular strengths. Many young adults whose parents divorced while they were teenagers contribute their own insightful notes from the front.

The idea for this book began with another--Beth's Life Lessons: 50 Things I Learned from My Divorce. Written for other women approaching the same gauntlet, the book includes interviews with a number of Beth's friends. While work on Beth's book progressed, it became obvious that there was a need for another--one that could address Thea's experience writ large--and from her perspective.

Thea interviewed her own friends for the book's anecdotal sections (their names have been changed for publication) and submitted first-draft chapters each week to her mother, who assembled everything.

When Beth, who teaches English at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., told her students about the project, some of them volunteered their own stories to the cause.

When Divorce Hits Home has struck a chord with the public, as well. Newspapers across the country have reprinted an Orange County Register article about the book. The Plain Dealer ran a feature story in its family living section. There is talk of a possible appearance on Oprah. And Thea says that one particular maxim contained in the book evokes amused recognition from people. In the chapter on developing a good sense of timing for discussing important subjects with your parents, she advises: "Never talk to them when they're in the bathroom. They hate that."

Speaking of timing, Thea will complete her B.A. in English by the summer's end, counting with certainty on two credits toward graduation. Her advisor, Associate Professor of English William Patrick Day, agreed to give her private reading credit for the book, a matter Thea proposed by asking if he "would accept 189 pages of something I'm getting paid to do?"

Graduate school, like heaven, can wait. Thea is trying her hand at fiction, looking for a job, and waiting for yet another publication to enter America's consciousness: she's contributed a chapter to a book about college life, to be published soon by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Thea has gained more than course credit and a writing career from the experience, however. The act of writing the book, she says, has taught her to accept her father. As he is.

--Marci Janas '91

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