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What Girls Learn
A Novel
Written by Karin Cook

What Girls Learn .

Category: Fiction - Women; Fiction - Family Life - General; Fiction - Literary
Imprint: Vintage
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: February 1998
Price: $13.95
Can. Price: $17.95
ISBN: 978-0-679-76944-6 (0-679-76944-7)
Pages: 320

In the most moving and emotionally stirring fictional debut since Anna Quindlen’s One True Thing or Mona Simpson’s Anywhere But Here, Karin Cook gives us a novel about girls and their mothers, about sibling rivalry and kinship, about the mysterious tug between love and antagonism that lies at the heart of every family. The year Tilden turns twelve, her mother, Frances, falls in love and moves the family north. Soon the watchful, wise Tilden and her rebellious younger sister, Elizabeth, are navigating a new household amidst the awkward and alluring terrain of adolescence.

But when Frances suddenly discovers a lump in her breast, her daughters must confront the unpredictability of her illness. With heartbreak and humor, these characters expose a world of secrets and learn to survive in the face of life’s contradictions. Funny, haunting, and unflinchingly truthful on every page, What Girls Learn is a book that will be read—and cherished—for years to come.

PRAISE FOR What Girls Learn:

“[An] engaging and moving first novel.... Tilden is a gem of a character, navigating all the complexities of adolescent friendships, sibling rivalry and burgeoning sexuality while dealing with her mother's illness.... An auspicious debut.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this debut novel by New York-based writer Karin Cook, two young sisters, Elizabeth and Tilden (the narrator), watch helplessly as their beloved mother falls victim to breast cancer. What Girls Learn paints the confusion of puberty, a young girl's ambivalent sexuality, and the nuances of family relations with vivid, assured strokes.... Cook renders the girls' pain and loss with a precise sense of the emotional harmonics.”

“When Karin Cook was 19, her mother told her that her breast cancer had recurred. Two weeks later, she was dead. ‘I couldn't not write about my mother's death,’ says Cook, now 28. ‘It was the biggest event in my life.’ The resulting fiction is stunning: Tilden, the author’s 13-year-old stand-in, is a tentative, witty narrator.... Cook’s book is solid, a personal story turned universal—and it’s very, very good.”
Harper’s Bazaar

“Ms. Cook triumphs completely in her achingly nuanced depiction of a young girl’s fierce love for her brave mother. She also succeeds in capturing the essential bond between siblings, who fight here ‘the way only sisters can fight—with the luxury of forever and forgiveness at hand.’ ”
The New York Times Book Review

“A first novel that glows with both artistic grace and psychological insight.”

“[An] emotionally involving debut novel.... Cook has a deft touch...Tilden is a delightful character as she lurches through the uncertainty of constantly shifting friendships and...sibling spats just like any typical adolescent.”
School Library Journal

“A gripping first novel.”
U.S. News and World Report

What Girls Learn is poignant and affecting.”
New York Newsday

“An earnest coming-of-age tale....vibrant....well-intentioned.”
Kirkus Reviews

A free teacher’s guide is available for this title. Please click on “Teacher’s Guides” above.


WINNER - YALSA Best Books for Young Adults


Karin Cook graduated from Vassar College and the Creative Writing Program at New York University.  An activist and health educator, she currently lives and works in New York City where she is the development office at The Door, a multiservice youth center.