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FEBRUARY 21, 2000: 

Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture Ed. by Chelsea Cain (Seal Press), paper, $16

I picked up this book because one of my friends suffers from clinical depression and attributes it to his chaotic, hippie childhood. I also spent a decade living in communal situations and both envied the children's freedom and wondered how they would ultimately be affected by it.

Wild Child is a collection of diverse writings by a group of young women who grew up as "hippie kids." Some of the writings are primarily creative, while others are psychologically insightful, descriptive and poetic. Each chapter offers a different take on what may be seen as a distinct cultural group. What becomes apparent is that counterculture is no more homogenous than Hispanic, Anglo or Native American culture. Each family is different, and each child responds to challenging situations in a different manner.

What also becomes apparent are the similarities with minority cultures. The children became aware during their school years that they were different from their peers. They were almost universally mortified by their packed lunches and their clothing. They learned to separate their home lives from the "real world" in a way similar to the way an immigrant Chinese kid, or any local minority kid, might have to.

The writers are obviously literate and relatively well-adjusted. Whether they completely represent the diversity within the lives of counterculture kids is questionable, but they do broaden our understanding, making the book well worth reading. -- Jackie Sinclair

Little Gray Men: Roswell and the Rise of a Popular Culture by Toby Smith (UNM Press), hardcover, $25

Believe, baby. Believe that the key event in all history happened on July 4 (or maybe July 5; sources disagree), 1947, and that most homo sapiens still don't know about it. Screaming from night skies outside of Roswell fell ... something. A UFO, stated an early radio report, man's first contact with extra-terrestrials. And our own government has stashed the bodies, deduced Those Who Believe.

So began Roswell's auspicious ascent to synonymy with a UFO obsession that would color conspiracies and entertainment for the remainder of the century. From the so-called Roswell Incident, too, Toby Smith's Little Gray Men takes off (hee hee) on a frequently funny pastiche of New Mexico's oddest socio-phenomenon.

Smith displays a Roswell known and unknown -- how many of the attendees at 50th Anniversary bash Encounter '97 had ever heard of formerly neighboring town Blackdom? -- on his tour through a pop culture mecca's half-century. Personalities haunt these pages with rocketeer Robert Goddard, sci-fi scribe Jack Williamson and golfer Nancy Lopez rubbing shoulders with nonplussed, bumper sticker-hawking locals. And even Governor "Toke" Johnson makes a cameo to state he knows what happened, but ain't tellin'.

Mr. Smith amuses throughout, admirably tracing public consciousness of Roswell from New Yorker cartoons to incessant "X-Files" subplots (subtract a few points, though, for omitting mention of a certain Chevy Malibu in the classic flick Repo Man). Over-embellishment is sometimes problematic, but wackiness definitely predominates.

And the Incident? That's easy: experimental military technology; nothing more, nothing less. Obviously. -- Os Davis

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