On the shelf — ‘Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids’

By M. Christine Byron, Grand Rapids Main Library and Thomas R. Dilley

This wonderful anthology brings together twenty-eight reflections on coming of age in Grand Rapids. These personal histories of young people who were seldom “seen or heard” document the social history of Grand Rapids from a fresh perspective. The earliest pieces date back to the 1830s and 1850s and the most recent describe coming of age in the 1960s through the 1980s. Half of the narratives in this volume are culled from existing books, journals and magazines; the other half are new pieces specifically written for this collection.

Gordon Olson, City Historian Emeritus, has gathered accounts of young people from historical sources. Reinder Van Til, an editor for William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, collected writings of living authors. As Van Til says in the preface, this volume represents “not only sharp personal writing by some of the best writers that Grand Rapids has produced but also a kind of impressionistic historical portrait of a community during a century and a half of its own coming of age.”

Albert Baxter and Charles Belknap write of past times when Grand Rapids could hardly be called even a one-horse town. Essays by Arnold Gringrich, Gerald and Betty Ford, John Hockenberry and Paul Schrader recount formative years and experienced here before they each would leave their hometown to make their ways in the world. Roger Wilkins, Levi Rickert, Al Green and Bich Minh Nguyen share their experiences growing up in a white community, and the racial inequities that are an indelible part of their memories. Edward Gillis and Max Apple write fondly of the strong ties to their ethnic communities. Poignant and memorable essays by Hank Meijer, Tom Rademacher and Kaye Longberg recall teenage years in the 1960s and 1970s, before the weight of adulthood had settled upon them.

Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids speaks to the remarkable diversity of experience that has made the city what it is today. This collection of voices gives each of us the opportunity to pause, look back and reflect on each of our personal histories.