Synopses & Reviews
The Only Girl in the Car
Bookworm and dreamer, Kathy was a young girl with a tender heart, an adventurer's spirit, and a child's terrible confusion about her proper place in the world. As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, she seemed trapped in her role as Big Sister and Mommy's Helper. Then, one day, teetering on the brink of adolescence, hormones surging, she heard someone call her "cheesecake," and suddenly saw her path.
"Cheesecake, jailbait, sex kitten"--the very words seemed to be "doors opening" to a splendid new self. But from the moment she decides to lose her virginity and reels in her prey, a "full-grown man," fourteen-year-old Kathy is headed for trouble. One cold, raw March night some months later, parked in a car with four boys on the outskirts of her small suburban town, she finds it.
Though she could never have foreseen the outcome of that night, the "boys in the car could just as well have been Gypsies foretelling my future," she writes. Girls who break the rules in small towns like the one she lived in are expected to pay a very high price for their transgressions--and she did.
And yet...this young girl, as scrappy a protagonist as any in our literature, manages to transform her fate. The story of how she came to be in that car, and how she stepped out of it forever altered, to be sure, yet not forever damaged, is the theme of this extraordinary coming-of-age tale.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Kathy Dobie has written for Harpers, The Village Voice, Vibe, Salon
, and a number of other magazines. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. One of the first characters Kathy Dobie introduces is Brian, the thirty-three-year-old she meets on her parents front lawn. What are your first impressions of Brian and Kathy, based on this initial encounter? How did those impressions change throughout the book?
2. Though many of Kathys experiences reflect the time period during which they occurred, her fantasies and impulses have several universal qualities. What outcomes would you predict for todays teenage Kathy Dobies?
3. Religious imagery frequently appears in this memoir. In what way does the authors attitude towards God vary from the time she maintains a secret “chapel drawer” to her concluding paragraphs about the Reverend Betty Neal?
4. When Kathy embarks on a mission to lose her virginity, what does “virginity” represent to her? Does the actual experience provide any of the benefits for which she had hoped?
5. Chapter eleven describes the ironic cross-country vacation that Kathys parents think of as a wholesome family activity. Why do you suppose they were so unaware of Kathys communication with leering passersby? Were you surprised by Mr. Dobies lack of response when his co-worker called the snapshot of Kathy “cheesecake?”
6. What does Bill teach Kathy about their familys protocol regarding rebellion?
7. Does Catholicism lend a particular tone to Kathys youth that other faiths might not have? Why? What are some examples?
8. Kathys parents told her years later that they heard her sneaking out at night but, short of locking her in her room, “didnt know what to do.” Do you agree with their actions? To which parent does Kathy seem more responsive?
9. Does the Teen Center provide a microcosm of Hamden? What drew Kathy to the Center? Why were the teenagers there so quick to judge her and exonerate Jimmy?
10. Discuss the experiences that formed your bridge from childhood to adulthood. How did your impulses compare to Kathys? How has your own perception of the opposite sex evolved from the time you were a teenager?
11. Compare Kathys relationship to Bill to that of her other siblings. Does her affection for him seem mutual?
12. Discuss the significance of the following line, which refers to a tan blonde who catches the gaze of Kathys father: “I wanted to be her, collecting stares as I walked down the street, pulling fathers from their suitlike selves.” What might the “suitlike self” mean to her? What were some of the other motivations behind her adolescent actions?
13. Kathy mentions her mothers dinner-table proclamations against feminists. “Stephen wouldnt have understood her agitation…. The rest of us had begun to harden our hearts against her. We had to, for she had set all her hopes and dreams, her sense of worth, on the idea of a big, happy, loving family. And we were going to crush her dream.” What makes Kathy so certain that she and her siblings would never live up to Mrs. Dobies ideal?
14. What did Kathys parents demonstrate to her about gender and power?
15. In your opinion, does Kathys horrific experience with Jimmy and his cohorts constitute rape? Do you believe that her friends would have been more sympathetic if the incident had happened in the twenty-first century?
16. In the face of Kathys ostracism, Cindy becomes a surprising source of unconditional support. How does this turn of events shape Kathys depiction of her family?
17. What are the challenges and benefits of growing up in a large family? What do the final chapters of The Only Girl in the Car indicate about Kathys attitudes toward life in groups?
18. How do Kathys images of New York compare to her depictions of Hamden and New Haven?
19. Do you consider Kathys writing of this memoir, albeit with pseudonyms, to be a risky act?
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Kathy Dobies The Only Girl in the Car. We hope they will enrich your experience of this riveting, poignantly honest memoir.