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Mary Jane Grenzow: A 'Girl' of the '70s? Could be worse
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Apparently, I'm now a historical figure.

At least that's what the nice folks at Mattel are saying: The latest entry in the American Girl line of historical dolls is Julie, a young girl of 9 from 1974.

1974. The year I was 8.

It must be noted that even though I have three daughters, I was hoping to bypass the whole American Girl thing. It's not that I have anything against American Girl dolls. In fact, company founder Pleasant Rowland's original concept to market dolls of the highest quality, representing young girls from various periods throughout American history with the utmost historical accuracy, is pretty admirable.

And charging almost $100 for said doll, as well as producing an accompanying set of six books and a complete line of high-end accessories for each doll is perfectly brilliant - for people who have deep enough pockets to shell out $60 for a pair of matching pajamas for their little girl and her doll.

But when my mother announced a while back that she intended to buy each of her granddaughters an American Girl doll, I knew my days were numbered. It was only a matter of time until we became American Girls.

That time came this year. Elizabeth's cousin had her heart set on getting Samantha, the Victorian-era doll, for Christmas. Knowing Elizabeth would be crushed if her cousin got an American Girl doll and she didn't, I gave my mom the go-ahead to plunge us into the AG universe.

Trouble is, Elizabeth didn't know which doll she wanted. So we began reading the introductory book for each of the characters.

For the uninitiated, each of the 13 dolls in the American Girl line of historical characters represents a girl facing a particular challenge. Josefina, living in 1800s New Mexican territory, misses her late mother. Felicity, of the Colonial period, desperately tries to help a horse that's being neglected. Turn-of-the-century Samantha tries to help her friend Nellie, whose family is so poor that Nellie is hired out as domestic help. Kirsten and her family make a long and deadly journey as they immigrate from Sweden in the mid 1800s. And Addy, a slave on a Southern plantation, witnesses her father and brother being sold off, before she escapes for freedom with her mother.

It soon became apparent that these stories are more than just fluff. I shed a tear when Kirsten's best friend died of cholera and sobbed mightily when Addy finds out they must leave her baby sister behind on the plantation.

But as much as Elizabeth enjoyed the stories, as much as she begged me to read "just one more chapter, PLEASE!" each night, I could tell none of them captured her fancy.

That is until the catalog arrived this fall announcing the latest American Girl historical doll, introduced in September. It was love at first sight: As soon as she caught a glimpse of Julie, Elizabeth knew.

"That's the one I want, Mom. Julie."

The trouble is, I wanted to tell her, Julie isn't really historical. Julie is from ... like, yesterday.

Instead, I gritted my teeth and went online to order the doll.

Julie, wearing bellbottom blue jeans, a striped turtleneck, a white gauze peasant-style top and sandals, her long blond hair parted in the middle and hanging straight down her back, was waiting for Elizabeth on Christmas morning.

We began reading about Julie, who lives in San Francisco and struggles to adjust to a new life after her parents divorce. Through Julie's eye, Elizabeth learned about mood rings, pet rocks and VW Beetles. She learned the term "Ms." and "Title IX."

She learned that these cultural touchstones of Mommy's childhood are now considered historical events.

I've made my peace with this. Julie has helped me have a new appreciation for the era in which I grew up, and for the concept of American Girl dolls. After meeting Julie, I can see they actually do represent real girls facing real challenges. There's something very familiar about Julie - if not exactly like me, she certainly feels like a childhood friend.

So if I have to shell out a few more bucks for Julie's outfit with the gaucho pants, like the ones I used to have - well, so be it. It's a heckuva lot better than some of the oversexualized dolls marketed to young girls today.

I'm just waiting for the American Girl 1980s historical doll - one that has really big hair, a turned up collar and a Walkman that plays a Duran Duran cassette tape - one that reflects my high school days.

That I will have a problem with.

- Mary Jane Grenzow is the features editor for The Monroe Times. She can be reached at