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Book details
  • SubGenre:Girls & Women
  • Age Range (years):13 and up
  • Language:English
  • Pages:270
  • Paperback ISBN:9781098310875

Stuck at the Starting Line

A Coming of Age Story

by Susan Gelberg

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When 16-year-old Diana Campbell is spending the summer at her family's Canadian island cabin on Rainy Lake, she meets Steven Erickson, whose family has a cabin on a nearby island. Because she is shy, lacks self-confidence, and has never had a boyfriend, she experiences extreme anxiety whenever she even thinks about spending time with him. Although he seems to enjoy being with her, Steven is private and quiet, so she is uncertain about his feelings towards her until the end of the summer. Before they say goodbye, he tells her how much he cares about her, and they share a first kiss. He is so respectful and affectionate that her anxiety changes into optimism about him and about her senior year in high school. Shortly after she returns home to Miami, however, she goes out with Bill Moore, a popular, experienced boy. On their first date, he tries to pressure her into doing things that go beyond light kissing. Her anxiety symptoms return and increase over time. Although she continues to write Steven, she becomes depressed and withdraws from dating anyone in her high school. She also stops seeing any of her friends except for Laura, her closest friend. Because her symptoms are so severe, she feels "stuck" about her ability to have a romantic relationship with any boy. She even questions whether she wants to return to Canada to see Steven again. Because of the help of her older sister and also due to Steven's funny, warm, and affectionate letters, she decides to take a chance and return to visit him in Canada that next summer. As soon as they reunite in Canada, she quickly realizes that Steven is nothing like Bill, so their reunion is joyful rather than anxious. She is surprised and delighted to see that because of his respect for her, she is no longer frozen in anxiety or "stuck at the starting line" in beginning her first romantic relationship. The book celebrates her new maturity, self-confidence, and optimism.
Although this book takes place in the 1960's, many girls today experience confusion and anxiety about whether they will be able to have a positive romantic relationship with a boy. The story is about how sixteen-year old Diana Campbell gets off to a happy start with Steven Erickson, a boy she meets in Canada while vacationing with her family on their island in Rainy Lake. He is respectful, affectionate, and careful to ask her before they share a first kiss. During the year at home after that summer, however, she makes a bad decision to go out with a Bill Moore, a boy who is has dated many girls. On their first date, Bill expects her to move more quickly into physical intimacy than she is comfortable with. Because he keeps pressuring her on that first date, her refusal to do so makes him angry, and he ends the date. Later that night and in the weeks after the date with Bill, she questions her ability to date any boy. She continues to write Steven, but she begins to wonder if he will also expect the kind of things Bill pressured her to do. Her anxiety symptoms make it difficult for her get through the day. She stops dating and withdraws from everyone but her closest friend, Laura. She has little awareness that her symptoms are in part due to her date with a boy who did not consider her feelings and instead insisted on trying to force her to do whatever he wanted her to do. Initially, she is unable to reach out for help with her anxiety, but she eventually discusses her misgivings with her older sister, Julia. Her sister helps her see that she needs to develop the ability to think for herself rather than bend to the pressures of others. Because Julia is more experienced than she is, she gives Diana advice on how to effectively navigate through the process of meeting boys, making decisions about whether she wants to get to know them, and being able to follow her own instincts with self-confidence. The book is for those teenage girls who may feel "stuck" about moving from friendships into romantic relationships. The author draws from her own teenage experience with how she healed her severe anxiety about physical intimacy. The story is is partly fictional and partly autobiographical. It also reflects the author's professional experience as a psychologist helping young people enter into positive, satisfying romantic relationships.
About the author
About the Author Susan Owre Gelberg, Ph.D., has been a psychologist for thirty years. In her private practices, she often worked with teenage girls and boys as well as young adults who were struggling with anxiety issues that surrounded the process of entering into healthy romantic relationships. In Stuck at the Starting Line, she incorporates professional clinical insights as well as understandings gained from some of her own difficult personal experiences during her high school years. She also provided psychological, consulting, supervision, and teaching services in university counseling centers, hospitals, a psychiatric institution, a prison, businesses, community mental health centers, a substance use disorder treatment center, and a family counseling center. She has also made a number of professional presentations on topics that include multicultural counseling. Finally, over the course of her career, she has published journal articles and books on mental health issues. Now retired, she lives in Oregon with her husband of more than 50 years. Their mountaintop home borders a 13,500 acre forest, where they take daily walks with their two bouncy, joyful golden retrievers. She now focuses on revising the other manuscripts for children and young adults that she wrote before she became a psychologist.