Frederica Hatch is no ordinary teenager. Raised in a dorm on the campus of Dewing College, a second-rate institution where her parents teach and serve as houseparents, she's spent her life as a mascot of sorts for the students of this all-female college.
Her parents are obsessed with labor relations and social justice they stamped their wedding invitations with a union bug. Her father, David, commutes to classes by bike, and her mother, Aviva, painted all of Frederica's Barbies so they'd be anatomically correct. Neither elder Hatch gives a thought to clothes or hair or living in a real house, and can't understand why their teenage daughter might take an interest in any of these things.
Still, the Hatches are a happy bunch in their own unconventional way, until Laura Lee French comes to Dewing. Hired as a housemother, Laura Lee is brash, self-centered and has a penchant for bringing her own hooch to the dining hall at mealtimes. Turns out, Laura Lee is a distant cousin of David Hatch and they were once, briefly, married. Laura Lee wastes no time starting up an affair with the married college president, with bittersweet results that the Hatches are left to clean up.
No one balances seriousness and hilarity better than Elinor Lipman, best known for her novels The Inn at Lake Devine and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift. Add My Latest Grievance to the list of her excellent works: it's a heartfelt story filled with people you'll be thinking about long after you turn the last page.
Frederica is the sort of refreshingly articulate young adult seldom found among the sullen, navel-gazing teens populating modern fiction. Often surprisingly wise, she's also smart-alecky in the tradition of all real 16-year-olds. And Lipman is able to imbue Laura Lee, who could easily have been a grating, one-note character, with heart and humor. My Latest Grievance is joyfully witty; this is not-to-be-missed reading that'll leave you wishing you could enroll at Dewing College, if only to meet the Hatches. Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.