A book review for parents
This first drama book in the "Diary of a Teenage Girl: Kim" series by Melody Carlson is published by Multnomah Kidz.
Just Ask is written for kids ages 14 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Kim Peterson, a Korean adoptee, has little use for the Christian faith of her parents and best friend, Natalie. She toys with Buddhism when a classmate's death gets her thinking about eternity. She's not the only one with questions — her dad has her writing a teen advice column for his newspaper called "Just Ask Jamie." She fields tough inquiries on topics like romance, family problems and body image. Only when she becomes a Christian is Kim able to start giving helpful advice to those with questions about death and the meaning of life. As Kim grows in her faith, she confronts issues like dating, self-esteem, friendship struggles, alcohol use and lying. At the end, her mom is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and Kim must trust God to work out the future.
Just Ask is the story of a girl accepting Christ and learning to apply His principles in the "real world" of today's teens. Once Kim becomes a Christian, she lays out the message of salvation for readers. The prayers of Kim's Christian friends, and their support after her conversion, play an important role in her faith journey; Kim begins to attend church and go to a youth group, and her "Just Ask Jamie" answers reflect her newfound convictions. From the time she begins struggling to when she accepts God's role in her life, Kim frequently prays.
Kim's parents are Christians, but the story begins with Kim's dad "blackmailing" her. He says he won't tell Kim's mom about a traffic ticket Kim got if she will write a teen advice column for the newspaper he manages. Kim's mother later tells Kim that she knew about the ticket. Kim's dad had secretly told her. Kim's mother cries when Kim starts exploring Buddhism, but Dad assures her that Kim is a smart girl who will discover the Truth in time. The father of her friend Natalie runs off with a co-worker, and Natalie's mom has, in Kim's words, some "pretty weird mood swings" since he left. Natalie's mom relies excessively on Natalie to care for her two younger siblings. Teens in Kim's "Just Ask Jamie" letters talk about parents failing to act their age and using or abusing their children.
Other Belief Systems
Buddhism is explained and discussed in detail as Kim examines the belief system of her Korean heritage. The author uses this as a tool to explain some of the tenets of that faith and to contrast it with Christianity. Kim ultimately determines that only following Christ makes sense.
Kim kisses her boyfriend several times; no extensive description is included. A girl writes to "Jamie" wondering how to restore her reputation after she and another girl kiss and pretend to be lesbians. Two girls who write in mention having sex with boyfriends. One fears she is pregnant and/or has HIV. A young girl writes in to "Jamie" wanting to get breast implants. Kim refers to it as a "boob job" (but she does advise the girl against it). As Kim reflects on her birth parents, she acknowledges that her mother may have been a prostitute or her father a rapist.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Between Kim's personal experiences and the topics she addresses in the "Just Ask Jamie" column, this book covers numerous hot teen topics including appearance and body image (weight, how to be "girlfriend material" and belly button piercing), parental issues (Mom tries to act like a teen, stepmother uses girl for baby-sitting, stepfather "puts the moves" on stepdaughter and regains parents' trust after lying to them), dating problems (girl sleeps with HIV-positive boyfriend and may be pregnant, ex-boyfriend uses girl for sex, friend dates a jerk and guy lies to girlfriend about being a vegan), overcoming embarrassment (girl's shorts fall down in front of the whole school and she's wearing "granny panties" and two girls kiss and pretend to be lesbians and now worry about their reputations), and other serious issues such as cutting and drug addiction. In most cases, the answers are not cut-and-dry (though "Jamie's" responses are fairly solid). Parents can use this book to begin a discussion on these topics.
- What did you think about the way Kim and her friends handled the couple that got drunk before the dance?
What would you have done?
- What do you think of Natalie's concern about Kim dating a non-Christian? Is she right?
Could there be problems? If so, what?
- Did you think the advice Kim gave as "Jamie" was good?
Would you have answered anything differently?
- What did you think about the way Kim's Christian friends behaved around her before she was a Christian?
Did they push her too much with their conversations about prayer and faith, or were their conversations balanced?
Do you find it hard to discuss Christ with your friends without turning them off?
- When Kim lies to Natalie about her involvement with "Just Ask Jamie," she tells God she's sorry.
Is it OK for her to be dishonest in order to keep her identity secret?
- What about Kim playing poker with her friends?
Is it harmless fun (she does donate the money to charity), or can this behavior lead to a gambling addiction?
- How did you feel about Kim's dad's "blackmailing" her, pretending to keep secrets from her mom, and then actually telling her mother behind Kim's back?
- What did you think when you read Kim's feelings about being adopted?
Did it give you any insight about the struggles adopted kids may feel?
How can you be sensitive to the unique emotions of adopted kids?
- Kim plays poker with her friends.
Is this OK for her to do? On what do you base your opinion?
Note: Other series characters include Caitlin, Chloe and Maya.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.