Anne Tyler’s “Teenage Wasteland” centers on a fifteen-year-old boy, Donny, who is having a rough time at school. The short story is essentially about the ordeals of the mother in responding and keeping a relationship with his son. Donny had a rough time in school and his grades were declining, hence, the principal called his parents for a conference.
The story “Teenage Wasteland” opens with an occasion in October, the event of a conference request with Donny’s parent. Matt, his father, was unavailable and Daisy went there alone. The private school’s principal was Mr. Lanham. He told Daisy that Donny was lazy and unresponsive in class. He added that he often goofed around with his colleagues.
At that moment, Daisy thought to herself that Mr. Lanham would think of Donny’s parents as visionless and uncaring of their child when in fact she had been a teacher before. Donny, however, complained that she doesn’t know when he does homework or not. Donny often told his mum he’d done his homework in the study hall or before dinner. However, Donny adds that his parents often restrict his activities.
As the story progressed, Daisy started to assist Donny in his homework and she saw how poor her child was. Throughout October to November, she assisted him, therefore sidelining his sister and Daisy’s daughter, Amanda.
Assisting Donny and making dinner was hard for Daisy but her husband doesn’t understand. He simply comes home snappish. In December, the principal called and requested that Matt be present for another conference.
Although Donny scores increased, he’d pushed his D in history to a C and had raised his C in algebra to a B-minus, he had developed recent trouble. Donny had been ignoring classes, smoking, and drinking. He’d helped his friend broke into someone’s locker. Both Matt and Daisy were shocked and silent. The principal suggests that Donny sees a psychologist for testing, a psychologist who will set him straight and they all agreed.
Donny saw the psychologist and complained that he was a jackass and his tests were idiotic but he gave attention to each session anyway. At the end of the test, the family was invited and it was unveiled that Donny is passing through a tough period. He requires assistance to enrich his self-worth and academic progress. The psychologist then suggests Calvin Beadle who was a tutor and a learned psychologist.
At this point in the story, Anne Tyler expects readers to feel compassion for the plight of Daisy who gives everything to Donny while she leaves her daughter Amanda alone. When Daisy got home, he meditated on the word “self-worth” and reminded herself how much she often praised him. She’d said kind words to motivate him and she wonders if it were those words that give him a problem in the present.
She wondered if she’d supposed to praise him more or praise him less. Although Donny had resisted going to Calvin Beadle, he eventually went to him. Calvin chooses to be called Cal by Donny and after having discussions with Donny, he asks Donny if they can work together for 3 nights in a week. By this, with 3 sessions in a week, if there are no changes after a month, he can quit school. He adds that if Donny is tired before the end of the sessions, he can stop. And if he, Cal is tired too, he can stop.
It sounded like a good plan and Donny agreed. Although the bill for these sessions was enormous, in the hope that it’ll worth it, Daisy agreed to it after an exercise of panic. On some nights, Donny would still be eating dinner when Matt comes around to transport him in his car. However, Donny likes it with Cal, he often comes back home smiling and happy.
Mr. Lanham later telephoned Daisy to inform him of Donny’s improvement although it hasn’t reflected in his grades yet. Donny's teachers reported his positive behavior and Daisy was glad. However, it's discovered that at home, Donny doesn’t think so highly of his parents. He told Cal that is parents often control him and anytime he went for a party, they bugged him with calls.
Cal admits that his parents expect the worst from him and they need to stop. They need to give him hope. At this, Cal began to take charge of everything about Donny. His teachers in the school are instructed to call him about his grades and not inform Daisy. Also, Daisy is to call Cal to inquire about him.
Cal invited daisy to talk with Donny and Donny suspected that his mother doesn’t trust him. He stopped attempting to clarify himself over a report of his colleagues’ mischief.
Sometimes in February, the history teacher, Miss Evans called Daisy to inform her of Donny’s declining scores in history. Donny, from a C, had scored a D and he’s so close to having an F. Miss Evans persuades Daisy to do as she once did, to assist him to study and he would score better as he once did. She had called Daisy, not Cal because Daisy is a mother, not a tutor.
Furious Daisy called Cal and informed him. She adds the unconcerned response of Donny to his teacher when his attention is divided into the class. Donny would often say that he has a tutor whose explanation works like a talisman's.
In Cal’s place, Donny was allowed to do the things his parents didn’t permit him to do. He phoned a girl named Miriam and was surprised that Cal could give him this liberty. Miriam had also been invited to one of his sessions with Donny before, which makes Cal’s penetration into Donny’s life extraordinary.
When Daisy informed Cal of Donny’s shortcomings, Cal responded that it wasn’t only his academics that matters but his happiness. He says that Donny is on the path to finding happiness and it should be given time.
In April, the principal called to report Donny’s expulsion from school. Donny had been caught with five cans of beer and half a pack of cigarettes in his locker. Donny had been sent home on foot but Daisy didn’t see him. She panicked till night and called Cal who reported that he was with him. Visiting Cal, Donny says it was a setup and that he knew nothing about it.
Daisy asked who the persons were, how they knew the combination to his locker, and dropped the beer and cigarette there. She did this so that she may know those who set him up, tipped the principal, and implicated him. Donny on the opposite felt blamed and at last, Daisy evaded the matter to avoid further trouble.
Donny suggests applying to Brantly, a public school. He will continue his education there. The school was strange to Daisy but she agreed and on the fifteenth of April, he started schooling there but he had no friends. Cal admitted that he made no headway and that Donny was disturbed emotionally. Donny went to school alone, did his homework alone and he joined no clubs. All these earned him average grades.
When final exams began in June, Donny disappeared. He was neither seen in school or at home. One night after 3 months of his absence, Daisy thought about why he left and she resolved that perhaps, Mr. Cal's therapy made him wait till the time he eventually disappeared.
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