Maureen Stanton’s childhood started out fairly idyllic. She grew up in a New England town in the 1960s as the third of seven children, living on a cul-de-sac, gathering around the piano and dancing to her father’s music, playing kickball and flashlight tag with the neighborhood gang and taking family trips to the beach. Nonetheless, Stanton’s mother often liked to remind her rowdy brood of the omnipresent state prison in their Massachusetts town, warning, “If you don’t behave, I’ll put you in Walpole Prison!”
Stanton’s family life took an abrupt turn one spring night just before she turned 12, when her parents announced, out of the blue, that they were separating. Money became tight, and Stanton’s mother returned to school to become a nurse. Before her mother achieved that goal, however, she started shoplifting. Stanton’s own life unraveled from that point, as she so eloquently describes in her mesmerizing memoir, Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood.
Stanton’s account is an informative, intelligent read for anyone, young or old, trying to make sense of teenage rebellion. She spent most of her teen years high on angel dust, taking every drug available, including crystal meth, cocaine and acid. Teenage mischief became self-destructive and even criminal as she and her friends went on vandalism sprees.
Thankfully, this is a tale of redemption. By the end of high school, Stanton got a job, began counseling and rediscovered her love of learning. She realized that her parents’ divorce had broken her heart and that by suppressing her anger and sorrow, “I’d been inventing someone who was not me; no wonder I did not like that girl.” Decades later, as an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Stanton muses, “When I hear about so many people addicted to opiates now, I wonder if that would have been me.” Body Leaping Backward is a well-told, insightful memoir that could hardly be more relevant today.