In Growing Up Fast, Joanna Lipper pins the root cause of teen pregnancy in burnt-out Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on a sense of worthlessness and powerlessness that is best shorthanded as low self-esteem. Lipper, better known as a filmmaker, builds her case through extraordinary reporting: She follows the lives of six teen mothers over the course of four years, describing their maturation in clear, insightful prose.
Because these girls live in Pittsfield, a former manufacturing town devastated by General Electric's downsizing in the '80s, most of the adults they know are scrabbling for work or addicted to drugs. They become teen mothers because they aren't confident enough to ask about birth control or fend off unwanted sex or tell their families they want abortions. And they are lonely: One girl chooses motherhood at 16 because she craves a baby's unconditional love.