Where Am I Supposed to Sleep?
Where Am I Supposed to Sleep?
“What are you doing, Jennifer?” she asked suspiciously.
She always calls me by my full name when I’m in trouble.
“Just homework,” I mumbled.
“You’re going to miss the bus,” she said.
I quickly started to stuff my things into my backpack.
“If that’s homework you shouldn’t be vandalizing it like that. Let me see it.”
My heart sank. Why couldn’t she have slept in like she did other mornings?
She snatched it from me. As she read it her face contorted into rage. She started screaming at me pretty much word for word what I thought she would. I felt like a cornered animal about to be eaten by its prey. I tried not to cry but I did. I never can last long when she starts yelling at me.
“I love you, Jennifer, but right now I do not like you at all. Since you think it is so horrible living here don’t come home tonight.” She then went to her room and slammed the door.
I grabbed my things and ran out of the house. I walked slowly down our laneway. I wiped off my tears with the end of my sleeve. I’m not sure why I was so upset. That wasn’t the first time she told me not to come home. It was always a dilemma because if I did come home she might still be angry with me. But if I went to Grandad’s, who lives close to the school, she would be angry because I didn’t come home.
Jenny Grant, 13, has many of the same problems as other teenagers; she worries about making friends, about fitting in, about the changes in her body and feelings. But while others in her class go home to loving parents each evening, Jenny heads home to a mother whose emotional abuse is both startling and heartbreaking—if she’s allowed to come home at all.
When Am I Supposed to Sleep? doesn’t rely heavily on a plot. It reads more like a collection of diary entries as Jenny tries to maneuver her way through life without upsetting her mother, her teacher, or the “purse gang” (her name for the popular girls in her grade). It’s a story that seems to quietly focus on how emotional abuse becomes internalized for young people. Even when she’s alone, Jenny often allows her mother’s critical voice to direct her course of action. The story is, at times, difficult to read as empathy for Jenny takes over. This is, I think, a sign of good writing-- when your heart aches for a fictional character. My concern, though, is that the other adults in the book (Jenny’s father, grandfather, and principal) allow the mother’s abuse to continue; they clearly know what is happening but make no move to stop it. It is never made explicit for a more immature reader that the way the mother is behaving is wrong. The closest we come to seeing any critique of the behavior is at the end of the novel where the mother has left and Jenny and her father are rebuilding a life that seems happier for both of them. This is a book that would certainly warrant some discussion with young readers.
Though the story is set in the 1970s, nothing about the time period overtakes the story. The issues and problems Jenny faces remain constant in today’s world, making the novel timeless with the exception of a few period references, such as a scene where she is introduced to 70s-style sanitary products. While this scene, and one where she has to navigate the drugstore to purchase her own supplies might have been added for comic relief, they instead add another layer of sadness to the story of this poor young girl who receives no guidance from her parents.
The strength of When Am I Supposed to Sleep? is the voice of the narrator, Jenny. I often felt like I was reading the diary of a real 13-year-old, a diary full of the naïve explanations of her mother’s irrational behavior and the incomplete understanding of the complicated social dynamics of teenagers. Readers will learn about Jenny’s crushes, her friendships, and her relationships with family members in a very matter-of-fact, conversational tone that feels authentic.
When Am I Supposed to Sleep? is a small novel with big emotions. Because of its sensitive content, it may not be a book that I would add to a classroom library without some discussion, but I can certainly see its usefulness in illustrating what emotional abuse looks like and how it affects the mindset of a young person.
Allison Giggey is the teacher-librarian at an intermediate school in Prince Edward Island.