Born in 1968, a very tumultuous year that saw Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated, My Lai, and Vietnam War protests worldwide, I’m drawn to memoirs and novels set during the 1960s and 1970s, my own formative years.
Here are a bunch that I loved.
Space: A Memoir by Jesse Lee Kercheval
Novelist Kercheval was ten when her father accepted a job in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1966, home of Cape Canaveral. Amid the excitement of the space launches, the story of how her family fell apart and her beloved sister’s attempt to hold them all together is moving and poignant.
Suzanne Keller grows up watching helplessly as her beautiful mother’s fragile happiness is fractured by JFK’s assassination and her own unresolved ghosts from the past, while the Beatles rose to stardom and the Vietnam war raged on. Her anxious and fervent belief that she can somehow save her mother is both heart wrenching and powerful.
An Egg on Three Sticks by Jackie Fischer
In the early 1970s, in San Francisco, Abby is thirteen and just wants to be a teenager. But her life spirals out of control as her mother’s nervous breakdown shatters her family.
In 1976 California, fourteen year old Jamie gets her first boyfriend, hangs out with her two best friends smoking cigarettes and tanning, while her free-wheeling parents throw naked swim parties, much to her eternal embarrassment.
In a tony Detroit, Michigan suburb in the early 1970s, the local teenage boys become obsessed with the five beautiful Lisbon sisters, whose claim to fame is that they all committed suicide.
Before her phenomenal novel, The Paris Wife, McLain penned this provocative novel. Awkward and shy fifteen year old Jamie lives with her uncle in 1973 Illinois when her older, mysterious cousin, Fawn, comes for a summer visit. Fawn’s risky behavior and dangerous influence lead to tragedy. See also McLain’s painful memoir of growing up in foster homes in the 1970s, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses.
During the summer of 1972, in Spring Hill, Maryland, nine year old Marsha breaks her leg and, with time on her hands, chronicles her parents’ divorce, her teenaged siblings’ shoplifting adventures, and the murder of a boy in her class in her notebook (shades of Harriet the Spy?). When a quiet, unassuming man moves into the house next door, her imagination runs wild as she comes to believe he is the murderer. The repercussions of her actions and that summer resonate long into adulthood.
In 1973, fourteen year old Susie Salmon is murdered by a neighbor; the entire novel is her point of view about her murder and the effects on those she left behind. Very creepy.