Cover image for A tribe apart : a journey into the heart of American adolescence
A tribe apart : a journey into the heart of American adolescence
Hersch, Patricia.
Personal Author:
First trade paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
391 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
HQ796 .H43 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



For three fascinating, disturbing years, writer Patricia Hersch journeyed inside a world that is as familiar as our own children and yet as alien as some exotic culture--the world of adolescence. As a silent, attentive partner, she followed eight teenagers in the typically American town of Reston, Virginia, listening to their stories, observing their rituals, watching them fulfill their dreams and enact their tragedies. What she found was that America's teens have fashioned a fully defined culture that adults neither see nor imagine--a culture of unprecedented freedom and baffling complexity, a culture with rules but no structure, values but no clear morality, codes but no consistency.

Is it society itself that has created this separate teen community? Resigned to the attitude that adolescents simply live in "a tribe apart," adults have pulled away, relinquishing responsibility and supervision, allowing the unhealthy behaviors of teens to flourish. Ultimately, this rift between adults and teenagers robs both generations of meaningful connections. For everyone's world is made richer and more challenging by having adolescents in it.

Author Notes

Patricia Hersch is a journalist and the author of A Tribe Apart . She was a former contributing editor to Psychology Today and the editor for the United Nations' "Women in Development" newsletter, and also appeared in many publications such as The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and New Age Journal .

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

A journalist who writes frequently about teens, and the mother of three, Hersch, observing that "adolescents have become strangers . . . a tribe apart, remote, mysterious, vaguely threatening," decided to immerse herself in their world and report on her findings. She attended middle-and high-school classes in her hometown of Reston, Virginia, and became close enough with a number of youngsters to be welcomed into their homes, hangouts, and confidences. What she learned about adolescents, and their often disturbing experiences, dreams, and worries, is startling in terms of both its obviousness and its complexity. She reflects on adolescence as "a journey, a search for self in every dimension of being," and on the fact that young people ask all the big questions about life and long for guidance, truth, and respect from adults. "Values do not spring fully formed out of nowhere," Hersch writes, but are handed down, generation to generation, patiently, responsibly, and lovingly, and in our contradictory, unbounded, high-risk world, they are more crucial than ever before. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

A contributing editor to Psychology Today on her three-year study of eight adolescents. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



    In a cozy rambler set on a heavily treed lot on a quiet cul de sac, an alarm clock rings and eleven-year-old Chris Hughes rolls out of bed almost fully dressed. It is a trick he came up with the year before to save time. He showers at night and puts on his shirt and underwear for the next day. If it were cold, he'd put his pants on too. The hardest part is keeping his head straight on the pillow when he lies down so that his hair won't dry weirdly. If it does, he has to wet it under the faucet in the morning. His father thinks this is hilarious and teases him when he comes in to kiss him good night. In fact, his father gives him a hard time about his crew cut. But Chris has grown up hating his naturally curly hair. As soon as he had a choice, he'd had those curls shorn and now he watches for the little turning over of the ends that means it is time for a new buzz cut.     Chris is a no-nonsense young man. He does his homework right after he comes home from school. He makes sure his mom or dad signs any forms from school immediately. He packs his backpack at night and lays it on the floor by his bed. In the morning, his mom always has the same lunch, packed in a brown paper bag, waiting on the kitchen table: smooth peanut butter and grape jelly on wheat bread, a boxed drink, a small bag of raisins, and dessert. He likes things that way. Dependable.     Seven-thirty, right on the button, he walks through the kitchen door wearing his favorite short-sleeved Buffalo Bills T-shirt (which, in the style of the season, hangs down to his knees), gray sweatpants, white Reebok pump basketball shoes worn permanently untied (although, unlike many kids, he actually leaves the laces in them) over scrunched white tube socks. Short-sleeved shirts worn year-round are de rigueur for a fashionable sixth-grade boy, and Chris has a collection reflecting all the major sports. He stops to pet the dogs now jumping up and down to get his attention, and absentmindedly hugs his mom good morning. She's in her usual seat with her customary cup of coffee. Most days he likes this private time with his mom after his brother Jim has left for high school. It is a comforting routine even when they hardly talk. But not today.     He'd like to tell his mom he isn't hungry, but then he'd have to hear the breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day lecture. So he rummages through the cereal cabinet and spreads the thinnest possible layer of Crispy Wheats and Raisins in the bottom of his bowl, splashes in some milk, pours himself a glass of orange juice, and sits down at the table hardly paying any attention to his favorite morning rituals: watching G.I. Joe cartoons and reading the sports section of The Washington Post.     His blue eyes stare into space as he pushes his cereal around. He thinks he has a stomachache, he tells his mom. She knows what this is about: today his sixth-grade class is visiting Langston Hughes Middle School.     It's just a visit, he tells himself. It isn't like he is going to stay there. But who's he kidding? The Real Thing--seventh grade--will happen soon enough.     He just realized the other day that he's spent his whole life at Forest Edge Elementary. He could walk around it in his sleep he'd been there so long. The teachers are nice, and recess is always fun.     It is the best being in sixth grade. You have all the power. He can look at the little kids and realize how grown-up he's become. Chris, a "school patrol" since fourth grade, is now a "bus patrol," which is "the coolest because you can sort of arrest people" if they don't follow the rules. In fact, with his friends Brad, Tony, Jeff, Gene, and a few others all volunteering for this position, there are almost as many enforcement officials on Chris's bus as riders. He has a great bunch of friends, most of whom he's known forever. Even if they aren't in each other's classes each year, they always get together at lunch and on the playground. They are wildly competitive in the classroom and on the playing field, all striving for excellence. They have challenged each other in soccer, football, and basketball since they were little boys. They try to write longer stories than each other, get more As, win more awards, but all in good humor. They've competed on Atari, Nintendo, and now Sega Genesis. T hat's how long they've been friends. Chris looks forward to meeting new people--but what if he gets into classes without any of his old buddies?     The panic is rising. He has been told tales of Sevey-Bip Day, a one-day free-for-all in which the eighth graders hit the seventh graders at will in a sort of middle school initiation rite. Seventh graders he knows this year have already been giving ominous warnings. His mom tries to reassure him that the event will be forbidden by the school administration. But parents don't know what happens in the school. The kids do it, he has heard, when teachers are not looking.     His teachers keep making a big deal about how his class is the first to have "middle school" within the elementary school. The sixth graders have been moved to an isolated corner of Forest Edge so that they feel a bit separate from the younger kids. It's set up in three homerooms, and the classes move among the teachers for science, social studies, math, and language arts. Volunteers have come into the school to allow the students brief forays into electives like photography, computers, and creative writing, although this part fizzled when not enough volunteers could be found. Forest Edge, like schools everywhere, has found that the always dependable stream of volunteers has slowed to a trickle as most parents work, and other demands take precedence.     Chris doesn't know it, but his class represents the leading edge of a nationwide movement to restructure the education of early adolescents, which was first outlined in Turning Points, the study by the Carnegie Council for Adolescent Development. The idea is that a team of teachers, teaching their specific subjects, will have shared responsibility for a group of youngsters, and that this will allow ongoing communication among the teachers, collaborative teaching projects, and a community feeling that has been missing in anonymous junior high schools. "Junior high" is out and "middle school" is in, in recognition that early adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time for developing at-risk behaviors, and that youngsters need greater support and nurturing than junior high schools traditionally have given them.     Chris's class was one of the first in Fairfax County to institute the change that will combine sixth through eighth grades in separate middle schools over a period of several years. The principal of Forest Edge, Frank Bensinger, is impressed. "We found that with the middle school model, discipline went down a ton," he says. "It made an incredible difference because in sixth grade, kids' eyes are beginning to open up. They are beginning to look at that movement out of the neighborhood as a grown-up thing. There was an elevation of self-esteem--`We are not being looked at as little kids'--and the school was recognizing that. The adults knew they were only changing classes in a tiny little sixth-grade area, but that little piece made the kids feel bigger. We decided to let them all go to lunch at the same time and you would have thought we set them free!"     Yeah, yeah, yeah, thinks Chris. He'd heard the middle school spiel. It was definitely cool at Forest Edge. But who are they kidding? Next year is Big Time.     At 8:15, Chris leaves his house to wait for the bus. It is so dumb to have to ride to school when he lives less than a quarter mile away. In fact, for most of his years at Forest Edge he walked. Reston, designed with pedestrians in mind, links each elementary school to the surrounding neighborhood by a labyrinth of paths and underpasses that keep walkers off the main intersections. On the way to Forest Edge, Chris used to stroll along a small creek and through a wooded area adjacent to the school. A kid could daydream on such walks, crunch leaves in the fall, stomp footprints in the snow, watch bugs. If your best friend lived nearby, you could share morning secrets. Often big brothers and sisters were seen with younger siblings in tow. Now only those across the street from the school walk daily, and for the rest, the battalion of county school buses, the vans from child care centers, and a growing fleet of parents' minivans safely deliver the children of Reston to their respective schools. This is one of the subtle changes eroding this family-oriented community. The buses for elementary school kids living less than one mile from the school had been added because of some "incidents"--nothing horrible, but definitely frightening for young children intimidated by older kids out earlier from the middle and high schools, or by strangers on paths in the mornings. The official explanation was that it was just as easy for buses traveling back to school to pick up more kids.     When his brothers were little, Chris's mom and dad thought nothing about their walking to school alone. Not only did it give the boys a great feeling of being on their own, but it also harkened back to the parents' memories of growing up--the walk to school, the bike ride to the candy store, an afternoon movie alone with friends. In those times, there was a cadence to the process of growing up, a socially agreed-upon sequence of age-appropriate behaviors that have now been replaced by a developmental free-for-all with great unsupervised leaps of freedom counterpoised with tight new restraints.     In a jolting generational flip-flop, the fabric of growing up has been altered. It is no longer a matter of parents recalling, "When I was your age ..." Instead, a compressed history is lived out within one set of siblings, where one brother shakes his head in disbelief at the changes affecting the life of another only a few years younger. Not that Chris and his peers recognize anything different. This is, after all, their "normal" world. They take for granted the scene of young teens smoking and drinking in the woods after school. They shrug with an air of resignation when they hear that the weekly movies shown at neighborhood pools in the summer are canceled because of rowdy behavior by teens. They do not seem to notice that the underpass near school, once decorated by Chris's older brother's day camp group with brightly colored dinosaur murals, is now desecrated with gang graffiti. Above the words I LOVE JEN D. are spray-painted X-PLICIT CRIPZ and SUCK MY DICK.     Chris remembers his brothers having lots of friends around, but accepts the fact that even though his mom and dad work at home, he cannot easily go to many of his friends' houses after school because they are alone, and they can't come to his house because they must care for younger siblings. The heady freedom to play in groups after school is now curtailed as parents tell their latchkey kids to stay inside until they come home from work. So even though Chris can go outside to play, even though his folks could drive him anywhere, he often gets stuck alone in front of the television, just as his friends are glued to theirs.     The school has changed too, as have many others in Fairfax County. Forest Edge is fighting for funds as Fairfax County becomes increasingly the home of families without children. Such voters make the passage of school bonds more difficult, precisely at the same time that more immigrants, often with large families, are moving into the area. The D.C. suburbs have always been cosmopolitan, easily incorporating many cultures. But the immigration stream is less from the educated middle class and more from the poor fleeing areas affected by war and political turmoil, people who have received little or no schooling in their native lands. Between 1987 and the present, the English as a Second Language program has more than doubled to accommodate immigrants from over 150 countries representing 75 languages.     Forest Edge, built in 1969 as a school on the leading edge of innovation, illustrates the wild swings of educational theory within a brief span of a generation: the elementary school lives of the Hughes children. Oldest brother Mark began kindergarten in 1976 in a setting of open classrooms; Jim barely got there and the walls went back up; and by the time Chris arrived in 1985, there was a hard-line return to basic, more traditional education. In Mark and Jim's days, there were no "Drug Free Zone" signs, no visitor passes, no permanent necklace IDs for personnel, no walkie talkies. "Self-esteem" was the buzzword, not "literacy testing."     Things are tougher at school for Chris and his peers. Yet at the same time a hard line is instituted on elevating standards to compete in the age of technology, the school faces erosion from within--frustrated teachers who are not compensated adequately, overworked parents who lack time to be involved in their children's education, and a host of cultural problems now played out in the classroom. By Chris's sixth-grade year, Forest Edge had become a school of 57 percent ESL students--a proportion taxing the efforts of classroom teachers and special services in a time of decreasing funds. All this in what is considered one of the nation's finest school systems.     As the bright red front doors of the school swing open on this cool, gray March morning in 1992, the feeling is sunny. The high-pitched sounds of children's voices fill the air. There are hugs and kisses from parents in jogging suits and business suits who drop their youngsters at the door. Mr. Bensinger is there to dispense kind personal words to students. A comforting throwback, he is everyone's favorite principal, portly and bespectacled, in rumpled suit and tie slightly askew. A genuinely warm smile lifts his whisk-broom mustache. In a testament to how schoolchildren are part of their parents' commuter society, a "Kiss and Ride" sign directs parents to the spot for dropping off their kids. This being a year or two before teacher molestation hit the media, the teachers of Forest Edge often give a hug or squeeze hello, something needed and always appreciated by the children.     Inside the school the walls are lined everywhere with art, poetry, and other student work--a colorful, explosive celebration of the unique expression of each child. Now Black History Month has been joined by celebration of Hispanic, Asian, and Indian cultures, highlighted by an International Celebration devoted to the cuisine and culture of the international community. A brightly colored mural along the main hall shows children of many races and nationalities, a reminder that the children are part of a global village. The melting pot has new meaning for this generation; their life stories, woven with war, famine, injustice, loss, separate them, yet merge them in new ways. The schools are where it is happening, and Chris and his friends are at the vanguard of multicultural harmony, looking like a Benetton advertisement with an Anglo, a biracial American, a Vietnamese, a Chinese, an African American, an African, and a Latino bonded closely. The beauty of these friendships is the naturalness o f boys growing up together sharing more similarities than differences, so that race becomes essentially irrelevant. But the change within just a few years is striking.     The morning routines continue. There is a long line at the school store, right before the morning bell rings, with youngsters buying "cool pencils" of football teams, graphic designs in metallic and fluorescent colors, as well as other supplies. Children scurry into the cafeteria to hang out with friends before classes begin.     But none of this matters to Chris and the other sixth graders as they await the moment when they will board the waiting buses to Langston Hughes. Even though it is only March, today they begin their journey to the future.     Mary Frances Musgrave, director of guidance at Langston Hughes, is waiting for the Forest Edge students as the buses pull up. Dressed impeccably in a two-piece pink knit suit, she is a tall, soft-spoken woman with a smile that puts everybody immediately at ease. There is something comforting about her conservative pastel look that conjures up visions of Leave It to Beaver, familiar to the kids through reruns. Her blond hair, soft white skin, and clear-rimmed glasses complete the fifties look. She greets the students warmly, as she will welcome, over the next two weeks, the students of the other six elementary schools in Reston that feed into Hughes.     The usually boisterous sixth graders walk quietly, almost deferentially, as they file into the Little Theater, a small windowless auditorium with carpeted steps that serve as bleacher seats. A half hour ago they felt big and grown-up, but now sitting in this gigantic strange school they feel like ants. As they filed in there were snickers among the seventh and eighth graders near the door--just loud enough so the teachers didn't hear the sixth graders being called "the Little People."     The welcomes and introductions over, Musgrave gets right to the first Big Question on everybody's mind: "In P.E. classes showers are not required. If you want to take one, there are six private stalls with curtains. Don't give a second thought to people staring at you. There are only four minutes between activities and when the bell rings, everyone is in a hurry." A hundred tense faces begin to relax.     More information than can possibly be processed is delivered in rapid-fire order: School begins at 7:30 A.M. and ends at 2:30 P.M. There are seven periods. Kids are organized in teams of about 125 students who share English, social studies, science, and math teachers, resource teachers, and a counselor. They can choose two electives per semester, like art, journalism, creative writing, chorus, or band. The audience begins to squirm and whisper.     Then the bell rings for change of periods. They can't see anything in this windowless room, but the noise is incredible. Approximately 1,100 adolescents--the entire school--simultaneously erupt from their classrooms and burst forth with crashing, slamming, banging, rushing, laughing sounds, a rolling river of noise that washes around them everywhere. Then, when the bell rings for the next class, it ceases abruptly. Wow. That is something, Chris thinks to himself.     Picking up after the disruption, Musgrave tells them there are twelve hundred lockers in the main lobby of the school, and they will each be assigned their own. The audience gasps at the number. Musgrave looks at them with exaggerated seriousness and tells them they must "never tell anybody their locker combination. Not even your parents." It is as if the importance of lockers and secrecy cannot be emphasized enough. There has been a lot of stealing, she is sorry to say. You must make sure you tuck your entire jacket into the locker so nobody can pull it out. Don't ever bring anything valuable to school.     "Every nine weeks we have locker clean-outs," Musgrave goes on. "You're allowed to tape pictures on your locker, get a mirror, make it uniquely yours--as long as there is nothing with drug or alcohol connotations." This is noted by the sixth graders, who are still proud to wear their "Just Say No" club shirts and who have been indoctrinated with antidrug messages for years. She informs them there will be a locker dropped off in their school in June so they can practice opening the lock, and encourages them to practice with a combination lock over the summer. And then a final ominous note: The lockers assigned to them are theirs and the adults of the school "won't search them without a good reason."     The locker etiquette is interesting but not the main thing on everybody's mind. When a panel of seventh graders, formerly Forest Edge students, comes in to answer questions, the very first is predictable: "Has anyone ever been locked in a locker?" Musgrave turns the question over to a young man who lets his listeners know that it is impossible, "because there is a shelf and no seventh grader is that small." But then he points out, much to the chagrin of teachers, that kids have sometimes been stuffed in trash cans by other kids.     The sixth graders come to life when able to chat with their peers, now veterans of this mysterious place. They find out: "Art is cool because you are allowed to eat stuff and listen to music." "Innovations and Inventions" (which their parents knew as shop) and "Teen Living" (which parents knew as home economics) are also good choices, because "You can make neat things and talk to friends." They are warned they have no time to hang out between classes and "mousse their hair," that they need to develop strategies so they don't need to return to their lockers between every period. If they are late too often, they can get detention or even fail a class. One girl says, "When I first came to this school I thought I would die because the rules were so strict," but you get used to them. They learn that the acronym for in-school suspension is TLC (Temporary Learning Center, a small room where you sit with a monitor and do your work); that detention is the next worst thing and can take place during l unch or after school; and expulsion is being thrown out of school for "really being bad, like having a weapon or something." There is no place to "skip" except the bathroom. These are all new dimensions of school entirely--skipping, detention, fights, stuffing students in trash cans. It is as if some mysterious evil comes over regular kids, something bad happens to you in middle school. But nobody asks about this. Finally, someone brings up showers again. The answer is unequivocal: "Nobody is embarrassed about PE because nobody ever takes showers."     They finally get a tour of the school, which Musgrave had described as "the capital beltway." Built on one floor with classrooms in a circle, with the hub shared by lockers smack in the middle, a gymnasium on one side, and the media/resource center on the other, it is totally confusing. The sixth graders are so overwhelmed that they are either stunned or slaphappy. They wander in and out of classrooms with what seem like thousands of Big Kids all staring and joking at their expense in a wildly complicated maze of hallways that go around and around.     Orientation is disorienting. For sixth graders used to their little nurturing world, where they enjoyed seniority for several years, Hughes feels big, anonymous, and confusing and hints of dangers. When asked what he remembered from this event, Chris recalled: "I noticed the gym. That's what I liked. It had a rubber floor and everybody started jumping up and down. I noticed the locker rooms were pretty dirty." The rest was overload.     Spring is filled with thoughts of endings and the meaning of next year. After spring break, teachers notice a change, an increase in "attitude," a growing interest in the opposite sex, but especially an exuberance and boisterousness that becomes harder to contain. There are wildly competitive kick ball tournaments during recess. One day in early June, Mrs. Downes's room serves as a portrait of early adolescence: one table is surrounded by three boys and three girls--two of the girls sitting provocatively with their legs crossed, and the boys casually macho--all absorbed in conversation and giggles. In the middle of the room, several boys and girls concentrate on wiring a working bell. Others combine in same-sex groups, drawing, talking, or playing board games. At the mirror hung in a corner of the room, Chris, Gene, and his friend Mike are making faces and trying to outdo each other in ugly mugs. The beauty of the classroom setup is that it offers the youngsters a variety of comfortable pla ces to be themselves.     The pace picks up as the school year comes closer to an end. Class selections are made for next year. Plans are worked out for an end-of-year celebration. The kids, hard to contain, have developed, according to their teachers, "a short-timers' attitude."     In early June, Langston Hughes principal Ed Thacker comes for a visit, bringing an actual locker. In a final testament to elementary school, the youngsters sit on the floor and in small chairs in the school library to listen to him. Much is reiteration of the spring visit to Hughes, only this time Chris gets up the courage to ask his question: "Even though you say we can't get stuck in a locker, if we were to, how would we get out?" He is simply told it won't happen--which does not make him very happy.     The kids are informed there will be no Sevey-Bip Day, that their lockers are their "home away from home" and if they forget their locker combination their second-period teacher will have it. Mr. Thacker emphasizes that it is "okay to get good grades" and they should not be scared of anything because there are always receptive adults to help them. But the same unsettling message comes through again when he relays the three cardinal rules for keeping safe and out of trouble in middle school: 1. Control your hands (keep them to yourself); 2. Control your feet--no running, no tripping, and get to class on time; 3. Control your mouth--don't say "ugly things," because they just feed the rumor mill.     This talk is foreign and unsettling to kids like Chris and his friends, who have gone through elementary school competing for excellence. It is not lost on them that this authority figure, the principal of their new school, feels it necessary to tell them it is okay to get good grades, and that they need to control themselves. "It's like in elementary school you are special but in middle school, you'd better behave," says Chris. Again, it registers in the minds of the listeners that there are dangers ahead, not only around them but in them.     Finally, in a confusing about-face, a quick change of tone that will plague the world of adolescents from hence forward, Thacker warmly concludes: "You are not going to be Forest Edge Eagles anymore. You are going to be Hughes Panthers for a few years." There is silence as this sinks in. Then smiles all around.     This seventh-grade business has unleashed a roller coaster of emotions in the sixth graders. A sense of big changes impending has them excited, confused, and scared. They share class schedules with friends, hoping to have a buddy to share the adventure. They wonder if they will be on the same bus route, if they will still be friends if on different teams. They are less worried about the routine of changing classes because of the "middle school" within Forest Edge this year. They have learned what it is like to experience different teaching styles. But what is clear is that their academic confidence doesn't touch the notion that changing schools symbolizes the true beginning of adolescence: "Like when you are in elementary school people think you are a kid. But when you get to seventh grade they think you are an adolescent," says one boy.     Back in their classrooms, the sixth graders are invited to speak openly about how they imagine seventh grade. In a written survey the week before, the question "In seventh grade I will ... had elicited a consistent reply among over one hundred kids: "feel like I'm growing up," "be a young adult," "feel more like a teenager," "have more privileges." They grasp for the words to explain the meaning: they imagine feeling more pressure, more responsibility as life and school get more serious. In the peer setting they worry about having "less power," as Chris's friend Jeff explains, "because we're the smaller bunch and they are the bigger bunch." But they also see a quantum leap in freedom represented by getting to choose their electives, deciding to stay after school if they want and taking the late bus home, going to their locker or not, deciding their own bedtimes, staying out with friends as late as they want to. In their minds, these choices are all equivalent.     The girls seem to have a great deal to say on social life. "Seventh graders should get to go places without their parents. If their parents say they are too young, we just say they should trust us." That's right, says this girl's friend. "They should see how it goes the first time and if the kids are irresponsible or something happens, then maybe they have to wait until eighth grade." The girls think they should be able to go to the mall, to 7-Eleven, to fast-food restaurants within walking distance, to the Reston Town Center, to movies, to parties. All the kids, well versed in Just Say No programs, are aware that parties harbor the potential dangers of alcohol, drugs, and fights, but nobody has much to say about that.     The boys seem much more interested in potential trouble and protection: "There is only one thing I'm scared of if you stay out all by yourself until late or with your friends, some older kids at the mall might start messing with you and you won't know what to do and what if your friends all run away?" This unleashes a barrage of stories about times these kids have been scared even early in the evening by older groups hanging out. There is a darkness they are fighting to illuminate in the recesses of their young minds, a darkness almost unthinkable in this pleasant suburb. It's a mixture of what they see on TV, what they experience, and how they extrapolate their lessons.     "If you are staying out late at night, I think you should be allowed to have protection if you need it. Not Mace. I know Mace works but you might be so scared you wouldn't use it," says an eleven-year-old boy with big brown eyes and long bangs that he keeps brushing off his face. "When you are in high school, I think you should be able to buy a gun." His classmates get into a huge argument among themselves about whether this is a good idea--but if they get a gun, they should have an Uzi or a Glock, not a Saturday Night Special. As they continue arguing about ammunition, a soft-spoken boy interjects his thoughts: "I think you have a point but I think that maybe you shouldn't have a gun but a little knife for protection because teenagers might get out of control." His classmates clap. The teachers stand around listening, stunned at what they are hearing.     A week later at the farewell bagel breakfast all is forgotten. An army of parents has worked together to create an elegant, embracing celebration of this important passage in their children's lives. There are real white tablecloths, balloons, programs, commemorative place cards, and loving, proud parents all around--serving, smiling, hugging, and taking pictures. An original song-and-piano medley, "Memories of Forest Edge," is played. There are a few speeches. Chris is called up for a host of awards, and finally his diploma. His parents take "a million pictures," and to his chagrin, his mom cries. She isn't the only one. Tearful parents freeze-frame the moment of innocence and togetherness. Everything wonderful about the school and the community surrounds these children at this moment and everybody knows from this point forward it will be more complicated.     The next night is the official sixth-grade party at a nearby community center with an Olympic-sized pool. Chris makes his parents promise to drop him off and not stay, and his mom has to practically beg for permission to come and watch for a few minutes toward the end. It is a scene of childhood in full bloom. A huge red-and-white-spotted inflatable dog float is the focal point of roughhousing, macho posturing, flirting, and wholesome friendly exuberance from a group of kids who for the most part have known each other for more than half their lives. Mr. Dog provides a friendly invitation to be children, and the kids splash, jump, and dive from the canine raft, squealing and laughing with delight. Outside the pool, bodies that range from prepubescent to provocative move easily without the burden of inordinate self-consciousness. Parents watch through glass windows, smiling at the scene. Chris leaves reluctantly.     Summer comes. Chris goes to Reston Day Camp as he has done every year since he was five, as his brothers had before. He loves the freedom and fun, and especially the counselors, a group of teenagers and college students selected for their enthusiasm in working with kids. One of his favorites is Jonathan Tompkins. Chris learns how to weave friendship bracelets. He delights in creeking--a muddy free-for-all in a nearby nature area--and the sleepover in nearby Lake Fairfax Park, a coveted event every session with hot dogs, s'mores, and barely any sleep. On the last day, always sad for him, he wears his counselor's T-shirt, given to him as a gift, and by the end of the day it is fully autographed by kids and counselors alike. Like others he had collected previous years, this will be saved in its natural form, never to be washed.     In the evening, he often goes down to the tennis courts and plays tennis with his dad and his dad's partners, who all have grown children and have adopted Chris as their surrogate child. Summer nights, Chris camps out in front of the television and watches baseball or a movie. But all the time, he feels the pressure of the upcoming Big Change. He and his best friend Brad discuss it endlessly. But they know there are no answers until September comes. He and his mom go to visit Hughes to walk around again and study how it is laid out. As he practices his combination lock over the summer, he can never quite get over the gnawing in his stomach. What would it be like in middle school? Would he be okay? What was it going to be like to be a Real Adolescent? When would he feel like one?     August rolls around and he starts Reston Youth League football. He has his mother measure him to see if he's grown. He and his buddies compare muscles and football bruises and the scratches on their helmets signifying collisions they have withstood. His practices, held on the fields of Langston Hughes, have new meaning for him. There it is. His school. His new world. And across the way, the high school. He can see the South Lakes team practicing. Last summer he didn't think much about it, but this summer his future is in front of him. His dreams are closer. He hopes in two years he will be there in that high school stadium on the team. But first, in two weeks, it will be him in this middle school. He tells his mom he doesn't want too many new clothes until he checks out what the kids are wearing. He and Brad decide after much deliberation to buy Converse shoes. Although his mom has him fully equipped school supply-wise, he chooses to put only the bare minimum in his new backpack so as not t o look too prepared, too eager for work.     The day of school finally arrives and Chris wakes up fully dressed. He pets his dogs and goes into the kitchen to hug his mom. No breakfast today--how about a vitamin pill and a glass of milk? He goes back into his room and watches the tube for a few minutes until it is time to leave. His mom embraces him a little longer and then secretly watches from the window as Chris goes out to stand with the other adolescents as they wait for the bus to take them to Langston Hughes and South Lakes.     Two miles across Reston, he will step over a great divide. He knows it. His parents know it. The community knows it. The end of childhood, the official beginning of adolescence. Chris and his peers are about to enter a time of life that can be understood, according to one South Lakes High School senior looking back, as "a long dark tunnel with many twists and turns and a narrow exit." Excerpted from A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence by Patricia Hersch All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Editionp. vii
Prologue: Alonep. 3
Introductionp. 10
Part I Stepping Inside
1 On the Brinkp. 37
2 Speaking Out/Acting Outp. 52
3 High School Is for Making Memoriesp. 67
4 The Negative Is Positivep. 81
5 Honor and Other Relative Thingsp. 93
6 The School Paper and a Whole New Adolescent Worldp. 105
Part II Making Contact
7 Out of the Whirlwind and on to the Playing Fieldp. 127
8 A Circle of Friends: It's Not Peer Pressure, It's the Adolescent Way of Lifep. 144
9 Graffiti, God, and Other Meaningful Thingsp. 158
10 Sex: Let's Get It Out of the Way, but Don't Look at Me Nakedp. 169
11 Lacrosse and Other Challengesp. 182
12 Taking Care of Each Other and Other Grown-up Preoccupationsp. 194
13 Moshing Is a Way to Belongp. 206
14 Shedding Light on Darkness: School Is an Uncomfortable Place to Learnp. 219
Part III Making Sense
15 Rearrange Your Room When You Can't Arrange Yourselfp. 235
16 The Dilemmas of a Fourteen-Year-Old Girl: Contradictions as a Way of Lifep. 251
17 Creating My Own Space: The Long Cold Winter and Descent into Darknessp. 267
18 Broken Promises: Theirs and Oursp. 283
19 Doing High School the Old-Fashioned Wayp. 297
20 It's My Prom, My Lifep. 311
21 Resignation: Adolescence Is Sometimes a Life-or-Death Issuep. 325
22 The Great Unknown Lies Ahead: To the Wilderness or to Collegep. 341
Epilogue: A Warm Embracep. 354
Postscriptp. 373
Acknowledgmentsp. 376
Indexp. 380