Don’t Call Me Baby, by Gwendolyn Heasley. HarperTeen. 304 pages. Paperback $9.99.
What’s an old-timer like me doing with a book written about teenagers? Well, my granddaughter is one, and I think she’d love this book. It’s aimed right at the middle school to high school crowd: it’s sensitive to their concerns, colorful, and well-focused on the problems of mother-daughter relationships as well as the overwhelming role that communications technology plays in their lives.
Imogene is the main character and the narrator. The lucky fifteen-year-old lives in Naples, Florida and attends a private school. She’s soon to enter high school, and the thought of no longer having to wear a school uniform delights her. Imogene’s adoring mother is a successful blogger who is able to supplement the family income by having enough readers to attract advertisers. Writing as Mommylicious, Meg Luden is a blogger for other mommies who fills her postings with photos and updates about Imogene’s life.
For example, she loves to post photos of a disheveled Imogene waking up.
Imogene, often called Babylicious on Meg’s blog, hates all of this. And, in truth, she’s is being seriously exploited by her mom, whose dedication to her blog and her readers seems to far outweigh her concern for Imogene. Imogene has become an internet presence, though she hardly recognizes the character that bears her name. She wonders how her mother could have so little understanding of who she really is.
Imogene shares her outrage with a school friend who well understands the dilemma of the blogging mom. As the daughter of Veggiemom, Sage Carter is not pleased to be part of her mother’s online campaign for healthy eating: “Sent Sage off to her first day of ninth grade with this spinach and kale smoothie. Yum!!!” Of course, a photo shows a disgruntled Sage with her beverage. The real Sage is dying for junk food.
Don’t Call Me Baby is essentially about the adjustment of boundaries that is needed as children reach those years of strong identity formation and wished-for independence. The negotiation of boundaries is almost always a problem between parents and adolescent children, but here it is brought into startling and frightening vividness through the unwitting disrespect these mothers show their daughters.
Certainly in Imogene’s case, her mother abuses her authority. And Imogene needs to do something about it.
Everything else in Meg’s life has become subordinated to her blog. She is always looking for the next photo, the next bon mot, the next touch that she can give to her Imogene character – whether truthful or not. Meg is blind to her addiction and to the fact that she is damaging her relationship with her daughter. And here she is, giving advice on being a great mommy. . . .