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The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty Paperback – October 8, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Since her birth at the hands of Ruth and Elliot Handler in 1959, Barbie has been decried for her bad influence on girls' self-esteem and become the object of praise for her ability to elevate girls' play beyond baby dolls and kitchen sets. Though she's only a molded hunk of plastic, Barbie has wielded a curious amount of power over the last 40 years. McDonough (Tying the Knot) attempts to present differing points of view about Barbie, but the overall tone is one of admiration, even from the doll's critics. Anna Quindlen wistfully imagines driving a silver lam? stake between Barbie's perfect breasts, while Ann duCille discusses issues of race and conformity, positioning Barbie at the center of what's wrong with the doll section of toy stores. Other essayists strike a gentler tone: Jane Smiley, Erica Jong, Carol Shields and Steve Dubin see the dark side of what the doll could represent to young girls, but recapture the original, guilty delight they felt when posing, defacing and, predominantly, undressing her. This well-chosen group of writers artfully explores the world that created Barbie, the childhood selves the authors remember and the meaning behind one of our era's most controversial pieces of plastic. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

No longer just a child's plaything, "Barbie has become an icon and a fetishAto some angelic, to others depraved." In honor of Barbie's 40th birthday, McDonough (Tying the Knot) has collected 20 stories and five poems in one volume: Steven Dubins's essay on Barbie's origins as a German pornographic doll; Jane Smiley on Barbie's "genius," which took girls from big hairdos and pink jeans to women's self-knowledge and rights; Anna Quindlen on her desire to "drive a stake through Barbie's plastic heart"; and a lots of essays with priceless titles ("Barbie Does Yom Kippor" and "Sex and the Single Doll"). Speaking largely to today's 30- to 45-year-olds, the varying intellectual and emotional perspectives here make for an engaging blend of idiosyncratic remarks and in-depth social commentary. Comparable in its irreverent style to Adios, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Images and Identity (Seal Pr.-Feminist,1998); recommended for public and academic libraries.AKay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Anamosa
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (October 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684862751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684862750
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of six novels for adults: THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS, IN DAHLIA'S WAKE, BREAKING THE BANK (which has been optioned for a film), A WEDDING IN GREAT NECK, TWO OF A KIND and the about-to-be released, YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME, which will be out on October 7, 2014.

She is also an award-winning children's book author with 23 children's books to her credit. THE DOLL SHOP DOWNSTAIRS received a starred review from Jewish Book World saying that it "will become a classic." In another starred review Kirkus called the sequel, THE CATS IN THE DOLL SHOP, "a quiet treasure." THE DOLL WITH THE YELLOW STAR won the 2006 Once Upon a World Award presented by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Her most recent book for children, LITTLE AUTHOR IN THE BIG WOODS: A BIOGRAPHY OF LAURA INGALLS WILDER, came out from Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt, on September 16, 2014 and her latest in the popular WHO WAS...? series, WHO WAS SOJOURNER TRUTH?, is forthcoming from Grosset & Dunlap.

For over a dozen years, Yona has been the Fiction Editor at Lilith Magazine. She works independently to help aspiring writers polish their manuscripts. To arrange a book club visit, inquire about editorial services or just to say hi, please contact Yona via her website: or on the Facebook fan pages for her novels, which she hopes you'll "like."


When I was young, I didn't think about becoming a writer. In fact, I was determined to become a ballerina, because I studied ballet for many years, and by the time I was in high school, I was taking seven ballet classes a week. But I was always a big reader. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and I used to frequent all the different libraries in my neighborhood on a regular basis. I would look for books by authors I loved. I read my favorite books--ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, A LITTLE PRINCESS, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN--over and over again. I probably read each of those books twenty times in all. I read lots of other things too: I loved comic books and magazines, like Mad and Seventeen. But when you are reader, you just need to read. Sometimes you read books that change your life, like OF MICE AND MEN, which I read--and adored-- when I was in sixth grade. Other times, you read the latest adventures of Betty and Veronica. You'll read a three-day old newspaper some days or the back of the cereal box if that's all that there is available, because readers just need to read. So I kept reading, and I kept dancing too, though by the time I was a senior in high school, it was pretty clear to me that I was neither talented nor driven enough to become a professional ballet dancer and I stopped taking lessons and went off to college instead.

As a student at Vassar College, I never once took a writing course. I was not accepted into the poetry workshop I applied to, so I avoided all other writing classes, and instead focused on literature, language and art history, which was my declared major. I was so taken with the field that I decided to pursue my studies on a graduate level. I enrolled in a PhD program at Columbia University where I have to confess that I was miserable. I didn't like the teachers, the students or the classes. I found graduate school the antithesis of undergraduate education; while the latter encouraged experimentation, growth, expansion, the former seemed to demand a kind of narrowing of focus and a rigidity that was simply at odds with my soul. It was like business school without the reward of a well-paying job at the end. Everyone carried a briefcase. I too bought a briefcase, but since I mostly used it to tote my lunch and the NYT crossword puzzle, it didn't do much for my success as a grad student. But I have to thank the program at Columbia for being so very inhospitable, because it helped nudge me out of academia, where I so patently did not belong, and into a different kind of life. I was allowed to take classes in other departments, and by now I was recovered from my earlier rejection so I decided to take a fiction writing class--also, the class was open to anyone; I didn't have to submit work to be accepted. This class was my 'aha!' moment. The light bulb went off for me when I took that class. Suddenly, I understood what I wanted to do with my life. Now I just had to find a way to make a living while I did it.

I finished out the year at Columbia, got a job in which I had no interest whatsoever, and began to look for any kind of freelance writing that I could find. In the beginning, I wrote for very little money or even for free: I wrote for neighborhood newspapers, the alumni magazine of my college. I wrote brochures, book reviews, newsletters--anything and everything that anyone would ask me to write. I did this for a long time and eventually, it worked. I was able to be a little choosier about what I wrote, and for whom I wrote it. And I was able to use my clips to persuade editors to actually assign me articles and stories, instead of my having to write them and hope I could get then published.
But all the while I was also writing the kind of fiction--short stories, a novel--that had interested me when I was still a student at Columbia. And eventually I began to publish this work too.

I presently live in Brooklyn, NY with my husband and our two children and two small, yappy dogs. I have been setting my recent novels in my own backyard so to speak; Brooklyn has been fertile ground in all sorts of ways.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
The concept of this anthology is simple: collect high-quality commentary pieces on Barbie, that lightning rod of controversy, and put them in a book. This book comprises both anti- and pro-Barbie writings, and the authors find original issues to analyze (e.g., the lack of adults or old people in Barbie-land, the race issue, baby dolls vs Barbie dolls, etc.). The essays included are well-reasoned and entertaining.
However, there are some problems. First, most of the included works are either opinion pieces or introspective pieces. It seems ludicrous that the forms used to analyze a world based on fantasy and imagination are limited to these two tried-and-true alternatives. Only Denise Duhamel's wildly imaginative poetry gives us a glimpse as to the untouched analytical forms that are thought-provoking and incisive (Only 3 of her poems were included; you can read her entire Barbie work in the book Kinky--an incredible piece of work).
Also, the op ed pieces suffer because of the lack of hard data. No real studies exist on the effect of Barbie on kids. Admittedly, such study would be difficult to execute, but interpreting the Arizona study to be such study is a stretch. Accordingly, we end up with op ed pieces either demonizing or adoring Barbie that rely mostly on opinion rather than fact.
Furthermore, the authors end up making the same points over and over: the comma-shaped feet, the torpedo breasts, the unnatural waist, etc. Good or bad? Each author has an opinion. But is this all we can criticize of Barbie?
The introspective pieces are nice (and some of them very funny), but you can only read about somebody's experiences growing up (or old) with Barbie so many times.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Morgan Smith on December 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Barbie Chronicles was an interesting book to read but keep in mind that it is all about Barbie. There is a good amount of information on her, such as when she was first put on the market, the reaction from the consumers, and the major conflicts Barbie caused. It is incredible to see how much a doll can impact a culture. Barbie caused feminists to become angered at the way they (women) were being inappropriately portrayed. The major dislike of Barbie was her unrealistic look. She was and is very skinny, busty, blond, blue eyed, and at the beginning only white. This sent shock waves through the country. Some parents really had no problem with Barbie, and others wanted to burn her. It was considered a controversial doll to many.

The way in which The Barbie Chronicles was written kept my attention because it was unique. Or it was at least unique to me because it was all in essay form. When reading this book you get all different degrees of attachment to Barbie. You get the impression that there are people out there that absolutely love Barbie and seem to almost dedicate their lives to collecting her and then there is the complete opposite. By the complete opposite I mean that there are people that despise Barbie so much they wouldn't even allow the thought of her in their house. The people that do this are almost always parents and they give an array of different excuses for not allowing Barbie into their homes. All the various excuses come down to the same thing, Barbie's figure. If anyone has a qualm with Barbie it is usually due to the fact that she is deathly skinny and no one wants their kids, especially their daughters around that.
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By Terri on May 3, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book presents a wonderful blend of creative discussions of Barbies. It blends poetry with personal essays to provide an educational overview of the different conversations surrounding Barbie. Unlike many books, this one presents essays on both sides of the debate for a nice well-rounded discussion.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By travnape on March 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Barbie is one of those pop culture icons everyone seems to have an opinion about. This book was fascinating to me because it delved deep into why these people feel as they do and had many very personal essays about people who developed special relationships with the large breasted bombshell. I was happy that many myths about the doll were not perpetuated. Being a Barbie collector I get frustrated when a book is strictly one-sided and claims things that are misleading. Even the Barbie bashers here spoke the truth- a truth that was very interesting to read and helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for all those with passionate opinions about BArbie- they have their reasons!
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