Paper Daughter

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Author: Donna Miller
Date: May 2011
From: Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy(Vol. 54, Issue 8)
Publisher: International Literacy Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,019 words

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Paper Daughter

Jeanette Ingold. 2010. New York: Harcourt.

Who are we? Who will we be? These are questions we never stop asking or answering. Jeanette Ingold writes a story of that asking and answering in Paper Daughter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). When her father tragically dies, 16-year-old Maggie experiences a deep and heavy pain. This leaden bewilderment trans forms into feelings of betrayal after Maggie discovers her father invented his past, building their family history on a lie. His forgery paralyzes Maggie, who feels ensnared by a web of deceit and begins to see her father as selfish and mean. With her entire identity at stake, Maggie is unable to forge ahead in life until she has sorted out the shards of her brokenness: "I did not wish to be anyone but who I was" (p. 19).

Finding it too painful to speak about, Maggie keeps her discovery a secret, protecting it like a "serious, mattering thing inside" (p. 98), not even daring to confide in her mother. When she realizes her silence doesn't make the truth less real and that she cannot ease the pain or sublimate it with long hours of work at the Herald, she finally confesses to fellow intern, Jillian Smythe, a talented writer who disguises herself as a ditz. Although Jillian may "move as though she has a right to more space than her body needs" (p. 75), her wisdom and boldness convince Maggie to use her own nose for news to ferret out the truth in all of its shades of gray.

Maggie's search leads her to uncover potential blackmail and illegal business deals. Her real family history also includes the Chinese Exclusion Era, when immigration laws segregated people by race. Lying could be a means to survival, and some families were formed on paper only. On the research trail, Maggie learns there are many ways to lie and that innocent people can get caught up during good-intentioned fact-finding as well. She learns the value of "listening past the time when it was tempting to talk" (p. 42), of waiting someone out to get a better answer. As the mystery of famed reporter Steven Chen's past unfolds, the threads of truth interweave, and as Maggie partially solves her own mystery and finds a family she never knew, readers learn how truth can be both painful and liberating.

Ingold cleverly employs multiple allegorical meanings for paper. She invites readers to consider the detritus of a life, how we accumulate photographs, certificates, records, and other artifacts as a biographical record. This paper trail we leave behind documents our life journeys and can lead others into our pasts. As Maggie sorts through her father's paperwork, "crossing a line of privacy [she] would never have crossed when he was alive" (p. 11), she virtually reads his thoughts and comes to know him more intimately. Ingold prompts us to wonder about the paper we've accumulated and about the story it may tell when we are gone, leaving someone to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A256930513