I kept a journal once. The reason why I didn’t do it sooner is because we had to keep one for many of my English classes. I found it constraining and boring. For Tish Bonner, however, the activity can be one of the only ways to cope with her personal life. At the start of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s novel Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey, Tish seems like a normal, albeit unmotivated, teenage girl. However, when her teacher Mrs. Dunphrey assigns journaling assignments, and introduces a caveat that she will not read any responses that are marked DO NOT READ, Tish realizes that she can find release in writing without having to worry about what other people will say. Her parents’ marriage has failed, and her mother has left the state and moved to California, abandoning Tish and her brother. In the midst of school, Tish is expected to take care of her brother and survive on whatever money she can make. God forbid she have a social life.
The tragic irony of this story is that by demonstrating some sort of sympathy towards her students, Mrs. Dunphrey has disabled herself to Tish. She cannot help Tish because very many of the journal responses are marked DO NOT READ. Either Mrs. Dunphrey sticks to her word, does not read the entries, and thus does not know the full story behind Tish’s domestic life, or she reads the passages and violates Tish’s trust.Haddix weaves an interesting scenario, and despite it being so short, the novel plays out in a logical fashion and reaches a satisfying conclusion.
This book seems like it was tailor-made for adolescent audiences. It is short, it is readable, and it discusses in great length an activity that nearly every single student had to do at one point (if they are not still doing it). By showcasing just how valuable a journal can be, Haddix at once makes the book relatable to her main audience – teens – and posits that journaling is a valuable exercise. A teacher’s dream, in so many words. Some students might feel duped by this, as if it is a sort of manipulation similar to Myracle’s in the aforementioned TTFN. They might like journaling even less. For those students, it would perhaps be wise to let them know the mission is not to get them to like journaling more: instead, it is to see a character in many ways similar to that student who engages in similar activities. However, this is blown to the hyperbole with the mother’s estrangement and subsequent egress. Again, if the student does not feel comfortable looking at the book as just a book, perhaps showing him how Haddix wrote it and what she was trying to accomplish would be a more enriching and more admirable task.