My high school years were less than stellar. I was awkward and unpopular, dreaming up ways to become someone other than whom I was. I spent most of the years between my 14th and 19th birthdays depressed, misunderstood, or yearning for something more than what I had. I wanted to be as awesome as I thought everyone around me seemed to be. As I think back, I remember how complicated being a teenager was.
For many, high school was a hundred years ago. They seem to have forgotten how it feels to have their best friend betray them by dating their ex. They no longer remember that instant connection with that boy or girl across the classroom and swearing that their love would last forever. They seem to have forgotten the hours spent in front of a mirror obsessing over that one hair that wouldn’t stay in place and changing clothes 3 times before leaving the house every morning.
High school is supposed to prepare us for an unknown future. But for me, it is a constant reminder as to why being a teenager matters…and why YA books matter.
Although a sixteen-year-old girl hasn’t been on this earth for very long and hasn’t experienced what someone much older has, it doesn’t diminish her feelings when it comes to love. Love, albeit new, is just as intense, if not more so, than for someone in their twenties. In fact, I truly believe that a teenager loves far greater and deeper than an adult ever could. Why? Because they haven’t experienced heartbreak to the degree that those of us have as we got older. People eventually succumb to that notion of misfortune as they get older, causing them to grow into jaded, skeptical beings incapable of fully giving their heart to another person. So maybe it’s true that what they’re feeling isn’t really love. But how would they know if they’ve never had anything to compare it to?
Think about it for a second. Remember back to your first love. It was probably during a time when the only things that mattered were passing your chem exam and what to wear to the movies on Friday night. Then, while sitting in school, they looked at you and your eyes locked. In that instant, your stomach churned, your ears burned hot, and your chest tightened with a feeling you’d never felt before.
They might have been a complete tool. They might have taken you for granted, used you, or even cheated on you with the guy or girl who sat next to you in chem class. But at the time, you lived in beautiful oblivion and lived in the moment. As we get older, most of us forget how to do that.
Live in the moment.
Like I said before, as we grow older we become jaded and cynical, never fully trusting that love won’t eventually come back to bite us in the ass.
This, people…this is why YA matters. It matters because we will never feel as deeply and wholly as we did as when we were teenagers. We will never be as innocent, and yet as close to maturity, as when we turned 16. That feeling that nothing else matters but the two of you as you sit so close on a bench, fingers waffled together, not knowing where your fingers start and their fingers end. We will never believe in ourselves or dream of a bigger future than during those 4 years. Every day was epic. And every day was tedious. It was as if we were spending our time with the knowledge that this, too, would eventually end. We knew that any minute, we would be expected to grow up, put on blinders and become responsible adults. As a result, we fought against anything that would remind us that at some point, we would need to grow up and become just as cynical as our parents.
YA matters because no one loves harder, hates deeper, or holds a grudge like a teenager does. No one sees the world through rose colored glasses quite like an adolescent who doesn’t just accept the world around them, but instead sees it for what it could be. Those characters in those YA books that we love to read (and write) give us a sense of ourselves, allowing us to relive both the best and worst times of our lives.
When I look back on my own teenage years, I think about specific moments in time when my awkward showed…when I said the wrong thing at the wrong time. When a bully made me feel small, and I said nothing. When a teacher humiliated me in front of the entire class, and I sat there and believed every word they said. But as a YA writer, I am able to take those moments and turn them into heroic scenes in my books. I am finally able to say, in words on pages, what I wish I’d been able to say all those years ago, giving rise to the person who had been hidden inside my soul. It gives a voice to the long forgotten self-conscious teenage girl I used to be. With every word I write, it gives me a sense of righting some kind of long-forgotten wrong that was done to me in the spirit of “kids will be kids”. With every boy that breaks a girl’s heart, I have the opportunity to rewrite the ending that I never got when my own heart was broken. I can tell that cute boy who was completely out of my league that I think he’s amazing on paper when I was too scared to do it years ago, standing there tongue-tied, holding my books across my chest as he walked off hand-in-hand with someone who wasn’t me.
Why do I write YA? Because their stories matter. Because writing about their stories allows me to put my less-than-stellar high school years behind me and allows me to rewrite my own history. I write YA because there is no greater time in life to discover who you are and how far you’ll go to be that person you want to be.
It reminds us all what it feels to be…young.