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Book Review: An Authentic Experience

An Authentic Experience. Kelly Wittmann. Sara Camilli Literary Agency, February 13, 2018, Trade Paperbook and E-book, 252 pages.

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.

I apologize for starting out with a cliché, but honestly, the teen angst is palpable in Kelly Wittmann’s coming-of-age story. Silver’s fifteenth summer provides our young protagonist with more authenticity than she dreamed of, as well as the opportunity to grow into herself.

Milwaukee is a good setting for An Authentic Experience, as the city is a contrast of old and new, tradition and experiment, music and culture of everywhere, alternative and straight-and-narrow. Silver, named for her father’s favorite song, is being parented in a trendy style: grandparents who are the bedrock of family and parents who are divorced in marriage though not in roots and appreciation for what they share. Despite all the crazy options for education, they agree on homeschooling their daughter to provide her with what they term authentic lifestyle experiences.

Silver is typically teen at the outset of the story, crazed over a particular neighborhood boy who she later learns hails from a very traditional, two-parent family. She longs to experience tradition over her smothering Italian bakery grandparents and former rock ’n roll musician parents, whose current lives of medical trauma—which explains a lot—and desperation for the good old days, are the only normal she knows.

Getting what you want shows the depth of one’s personality and tends to hone idealism. Silver is forced out of her nest when she must spend the summer at her father’s apartment while her mother needs to leave their apartment, to recuperate under the supervision of her parents. As a young teen, Silver is on the cusp of womanhood and sets out to explore femininity and maturity with the boy of her dreams while learning to see beyond, or perhaps through, her family’s weakness, strength, and depth of love.

By the end of summer, Silver’s hopes and dreams, her understanding and appreciation of normal and authentic, have replaced her childhood fantasies.

Told through Silver’s eyes, the story is lovingly drawn, deep and not easily forgettable. While certainly the language and sometimes shocking adventures of the music scene are necessary to create an authoritative setting, I found the amount of casually tossed-about foul language distracting from what was otherwise a beautifully told tale. A legal issue that was tantamount to the story was unrealistically quickly solved, and no more than a passing mention that could be overlooked at an abruptly wrapped ending.

Silver learns that being authentic does not mean wishing bad things away, or that they never happened. It does not mean trying to do everything for everyone else. Being real does mean trusting family with the really big things in life and sharing events that should not be secret.

While I have no doubt most readers of any age will handle the different types of trauma Wittmann, an educational writer who lives in Chicago, portrays in the story, I suggest parents read the story first.

An Authentic Experienceis recommended for an audience who appreciates the power of attaining self-identity and surviving the minefield of the contemporary teen scene.


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