Palin wrote this story so others can learn from the “pretty foolish decisions” she made, namely having sex before marriage. So it’s a detriment to her message that she never pauses long to consider her own struggle, and failure, with practicing abstinence. “Since Levi and I were going to get married, I rationalized that our premarital sex wasn’t that big of a deal,” about sums it up.
Palin’s self-deprecation is appealing (“my life had become a Jerry Springer episode, and a bad one at that”). Moreover, she writes convincingly, and humbly, of how she was able to move beyond her feelings of shame and Hester Prynne-like social ostracism. Palin could have lingered longer on other things that are really interesting, like her relationship with her mother, or why, beyond a vague hope that he would someday change, she stuck around with Johnston for so long. (If a guy, say Johnston, proposes by slipping a ring on your finger while you’re watching TV and the first words out of his mouth are, “It was expensive,” his heart is probably not in it.)
In the place of real insight, we frequently get catty asides. Some of her ex’s trash-talk expertise must have rubbed off on her, because she dishes it out with aplomb.
When she first met Meghan McCain, Palin “shook her hand and tucked away the sneaking suspicion that I might need to watch my back.” And on the night of her mother’s speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin says that Meghan “stormed” into the hair and makeup room demanding immediate attention. Unfortunately for McCain, Bristol and her sister Willow occupied the stylists’ two chairs. “Surely she wasn’t so self-obsessed that she believed everyone else should scoot over so she could take priority?”
The most head-scratching moment of the book occurs on its second-to-last page, where Palin tells us that a guy she offhandedly mentioned at the beginning had, for some reason, committed suicide. Somehow this is meant to demonstrate to us that everyone “wrestles with indignities, pain, and disappointments,” but, as her title insists, we shouldn’t be afraid of the challenges life throws at us. The comparison makes little sense and, whatever the intention, comes across as tactless.
If Palin truly counts herself among the most famous of women who have been wronged, and she really does want to help young adults avoid making similar mistakes, then it’s sad she couldn’t put her celebrity to more positive use.
Lowman is on the Book World staff. Michael Dirda will review a book Friday.