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UMass Lowell professor delivers gripping story of her “Delinquent Girlhood”

Conor Dawson and Dunia Seidu
Connector Editor and Contributor

Maureen Stanton’s new memoir “Body Leaping Backwards: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood” details the author’s tumultuous transition from childhood to adolescence in the 70s, as she dealt with her parents’ separation and teenage growing pains. Stanton, who teaches Creative Nonfiction  at UMass Lowell as well as maintaining a successful career as an author, spoke with The Connector about her new book, its conception and how she feels her story will be received by an audience of a different generation.

Stanton says this book has been in progress for decades. She relied on diaries, journals and stories she wrote in college to develop it. However, it was only after her father’s passing in 2014 that she felt it would be appropriate to release the memoir, as many of the events of her life included in this book were unknown to him.

“There’s something very human [about sadness and pain] ,” Stanton said about her teenage years. “I really did hope, even though there’s a big generational divide between my teenagehood in [the 1970s] and, say, yours or your reader’s teenagehood’s 10 years ago, which is much more recent; the details are different, but there are some things that are really the same when you’re coming of age. Some of the things that I went through are things that kids are still going through.

In an effort to find meaning in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce, Stanton started using angel dust, a dangerous form of PCP. She details her struggles with the drug, and her focus on English and reading as an out for her.

“Towards the end of the book, there’s a line about me diving into the pool we had, and it has a double entendre of leaping backward into time to look at things.”

In addition, the subtitle is a play on Mary McCarthy’s “Memories of a Catholic Girlhood,” a book with parallels to the themes of growing up and a Catholic upbringing in Stanton’s work.

Interestingly, Stanton is less than enamored with the imagery of the cover of her book. While the cover depicts a young woman falling backward into dark water, “in the book I may be drowning sort of metaphorically when I was doing drugs, but I was always a really good swimmer. I was on swim team and I did mile swim competitively, so the idea of falling into water, that’s not what water meant to me,” she said. Despite this, she fully acknowledges the necessity of such packaging, saying that publishers “know how to market” books, and that the cover has grown on her as well.

When asked whether she feels the book’s release may affect the dynamic she has with students considering the inclusion of explicit references to her personal experiences that would have generally in the past been considered taboo, Stanton said that she believes reading the book could encourage her students to feel more comfortable baring their souls as well.

“I have students writing about depression, anxiety, about being bullied, all kinds of things,” Stanton said. “I think if they see I’m also baring my soul in a way that hopefully is a way to share with people, making myself vulnerable, then they will feel safer to tell their own stories.”

This seems more than likely, looking at the amount of critical acclaim “Body Leaping Backwards” has received outside of the educational realm. The book was People Magazine’s “Best New Book,” and described as “a blazingly important memoir about the possibility of change,” while the Boston Globe called it “an unsparing look at a girlhood that veers off the rails.”

Stanton is a fairly accessible author and said that the emails she has received so far about her new book are similarly positive, although she also said that some people dislike work that deals with such personal topics due to their painful nature.

Stanton believes the book should connect with teenagers of today, because the current generation still works through with the growing pains that she herself faced many years ago. Discovering one’s self-identity while dealing with societal pressure, new experiences, and the state of mind of a teenager can be extremely overwhelming, and Stanton hopes her story will show young adults who are struggling that there is a way beyond that.

 “Correction: An earlier version of this piece wrongly referred to Stanton’s book as a novel rather than a memoir. This article has been corrected to reflect the difference.”

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