Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain by award-winning neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore received this year’s Royal Society Investment Science Book Prize. Through her own research, Blakemore reveals the secrets of the adolescent brain in her important book.
Adolescence is biologically defined as the period after which puberty has began to the point at which an individual reached biological adulthood, around 25 or 27. In her book, Blakemore shared with readers why these developmental years are so crucial for making us into who we are as adults – and why our brains continue to develop from late adolescence onward. And Blakemore is an expert on this.
Perhaps what is most striking about Blakemore’s book is the fact that she draws largely upon her own research in addition to citing other studies that support her own conclusions. Blakemore’s firsthand experience studying cognitive development in adolescents make her her own most credible source. She’s fully invested in the subject matter of her book, and passionately advocates for taking the behavior of teenagers and young adults more seriously than we do. We should not be shrugging off such an important developmental stage in our lives — after all, we were all kids at one point.
Blakemore’s writing is reflective, looking back on her personal experiences as well as her studies, which she outlines in clear, specific detail. She carefully recounts interesting approaches, findings, and conclusions, speaking in plain and straightforward language. All of this is very useful and informative to the reader, who for the first few chapters will be interested and fascinated by her work. But what Blakemore’s book seems to lack from start to finish are any profound observations that lend any further meaning to her book than “Hey guys, let’s not shrug off teenagers just because they’re hormonal”. I kept waiting for a stroke of insight, a moment of surprise, or something climactic. But perhaps because I am young – still technically an adolescent in biological terms – I kept reading her conclusions and thinking, well, yeah, makes sense.
The empathy and understanding through which Blakemore approaches her subject matter in this book is simply wonderful. She earnestly wishes for teenagers to be taken more seriously than they are. Her intended audience appears to be adults who wish to better understand the adolescent brain, and her intention seems to be clearing up misconceptions and sharing her and other neuroscientists’ important research on cognitive development. But her book isn’t astoundingly captivating or something that someone without a keen interest in science would be willing to pick up and pour over. Perhaps because of the award I expected something phenomenal – and Inventing Ourselves is certainly groundbreaking – but the book fell flat in my eyes. I had a difficult time getting through it, but I’ll chalk that up to my own literary taste and a busy schedule.
I would recommend this book if you’re looking for an intellectual read and can take your time with it. I would definitely recommend it if you’ve got any stake in better understanding the brains of adolescents – if you’ve got teenagers or if you are a counselor or otherwise interested in psychology and neuroscience.