Miss American Pie is the diary of Margaret Sartor, from January 1972 when she was in seventh grade, to 1977 when she graduated from high school. She and her family lived in Montgomery, Louisiana. The photographs of her show she was blonde, blue eyed, and beautiful. She was also a good writer, although it isn't clear how much she has edited her diaries for publication. She writes about dating boys, her friendship with her next door neighbor Tommy, her feelings about God and religion, her parents and the rest of her family, and her friendships with other girls. The book is often touching or funny as Margaret has many typical experiences and describes them earnestly. For example from 1972, when she was 12:
Pam likes Angela and I think they are getting to be best friends.
I don't like Pam any more.
Been smoking lately but decided to give it up.
Math is stupid
I understand Math.
Even at 12, she had crushes on boys, but by 14 she is really struggling with her feelings, which can change quickly. From 1974:
I'm so attracted to Mitch & I wish I could make it stop.
Chris told me that he loved me. I didn't know what to say, so said thank you.
Chris and I had a big fight! He found out that I told Tommy that he told me he loved me. I was mad but I learned something. I learned that I shouldn't tell things to people if there is a chance I might regret it later.
I think I've decided to like (love?) Chris.
Every time I see Mitch I like it, and so I guess I like him. I talked to Chris about splitting up but he kept saying how much he loved me & so we're still dating.
Hung out with Tommy and Jackson. I felt so attracted to Jackson ... but a different way.
I can't stop thinking about Mitch.
Margaret's feelings for different boys jumps around like this throughout the diary, although Mitch, Jackson and Tommy continue to play central roles. She and Tommy are very close friends, and she wonders why they don't get romantic. The fact that he collected Barbra Streisand records did not give her a clue, which is sweet.
While her parents were not very religious, Margaret is passionate in her search for God. She tries different churches and often has intense experiences, yet none of it quite sticks. It's tempting to think of her romance with God to be similar to her romances with boys, although she does maintain her relationship to God on a more permanent basis than with any boy.
One of the funniest parts of Margaret's diary occurs in her senior year, when she is feeling very unhappy and decides to go to a psychiatrist. She transcribes their conversations, showing the man to be almost comically unwilling to state a view or even show concern about her. Instead, he answers all of her questions with his own.
The first and last chapters of the book are written by Sartor in the present, introducing her family and wrapping with an update of what happened to the people she spent so much time writing about. It would have been interesting if she had written more on her feelings about these figures from her past, but she is fairly careful about how much she reveals.
There's plenty of material here for psychologists to speculate on how Sartor's life exemplifies different theories of adolescent development; however, most readers will prefer just to enjoy how well these diaries bring to life a teenage girl's inner life.
· NPR story on Miss American Pie, interviewing Margaret Sartor.
· Margaret Sartor website
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.