Did it really happen to Nancy?

You know, I really don’t begrudge the late fraud Beatrice Sparks for having been very religious and conservative. That was her prerogative. I don’t even have so much of a problem with her sharing her views in a non-pushy way. And I think most people can agree that teens need to be taught to avoid things like drugs, unprotected sex, unhealthy relationships, eating disorders, gangs, and cults (which real Satanism is not, btw).

What I and her many other critics do have a problem with is how she chose to present those views.

Young people learn most and best through honesty and meaningful examples. They don’t learn anything or suddenly change destructive behavior by being preached at, lied to, emotionally manipulated, and scared. Who are these people who really believe this old hag was merely the “editor” of all these “real, troubled teen diaries”? That is not how real teens write, act, think, or behave! And each and every book has a suspiciously similar writing style.

At 14, I read It Happened to Nancy (which I grudgingly admit is one of her marginally better books) twice in a row and cried at the end both times. As an adult, finding out it may have been entirely or predominantly a fraud, I felt tricked, emotionally manipulated. This dear young girl may never have lived at all? How dare you pretend this was a 100% real diary of a girl who died of AIDS!

This book actually starts out sounding like it could’ve come from a real teen’s journal. Maybe I’m being too soft on it, but perhaps it was another Jay’s Journal—it was originally a real teen’s journal, but heavily censored, padded-out, and rewritten to push Sparks’s POV.

Even at 14, I knew not to sneak around to “date” a supposedly 18-year-old college freshman, and not to invite guys over when I was home alone overnight. How the hell naïve are we supposed to believe Nancy is? And by the time you’re 14, you should be able to tell the difference between an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old. Like all of Sparks’s other characters, Nancy too is convinced she and Collin have some special, magical, timeless, epic love story when she barely knows him. They’ve been acquainted for exactly 10 days when she invites him over and he rapes her on her mother’s bed.

We’ve got the usual ENTIRE SENTENCES OR EVEN WHOLE PARAGRAPHS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS, excessive italics, overuse of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!, divorced parents, vehement (and very medically-inaccurate) anti-abortion rhetoric, ridiculous phrases and sentiments that no normal teenager uses, giving the time of day for every entry, a young girl falling in love with someone she barely knows and feeling they have a special forever bond immediately, a lot of God talk, and pushing abstinence until marriage as the only option.

I love the scene where Lew, Nancy’s fanatically pro-abstinence boyfriend, stops a heavy makeout session dead in its tracks, when they were almost at home base, and starts dragging her down the streets and into a church, where he makes her kneel with him and promise to God that they’ll wait for marriage. Yeah, oh-so-realistic.

Again, Sparks’s Molly Mormon fingerprints are all over this one. Just be honest and make your characters Mormon. Don’t pretend they’re Catholics or some unspecified type of Christian, yet frequently using very Mormon language! Nancy often says she wants to be the “forever wife” of the sexist, controlling Lew (whom I HATED on the reread!), how they’re going to be together through the infinity of eternities in their own world, and that she and Lew were together in a world before they were born and will be together in their own world after death.

Nancy also uses the phrase “celestial-planet,” which corresponds somewhat to the Mormon view that the highest of the three levels of the afterlife is the “celestial kingdom.” Oh, and her Aunt Thelma out in Idaho has a black rooster named Samuel the Lamanite. Seriously, this is like writing a mystery and making the clues of whodunnit so obvious it’s not even a surprise when the sleuth solves the mystery!

Lew was a complete tool. One of my least-favorite fictional boyfriends, right up there with Michael in Forever (the weirdo who names his male member Ralph). So sexist, controlling, and putting all the onus of blame and responsibility for sexuality onto Nancy. Nancy continues kissing up to him and bending over backwards to keep him happy, even neglecting to mention her new guy friend Adam out in Arizona for fear he’ll get mad.

Nancy’s friend Dorie gets pregnant by a slightly older guy, who unsurprisingly dumps her and denies paternity. Just like the noxious Annie, she too gives it up for adoption. They even call the baby “Little Dorie,” just like Annie calls her kid “Li’l Annie.” In Sparks’s world, no single mom is capable of being a loving, responsible parent, and it’s so commonplace for girls to be named after their mothers.

Oh, and please explain how Nancy’s doctor was able to give her an HIV test without her knowledge or permission, and how she goes from HIV to full-blown AIDS in two years. Please explain why there are people like Magic Johnson who’ve never progressed to AIDS, even after over 20 years. This book isn’t set in the Eighties!

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