Tag Archive | love

Young Adult Books and The Not-So-Young Adults Who Love Them

I often find myself in a bookstore these days. Perhaps it’s a necessary evil for my profession. Maybe I simply call it market research to see what’s out there and what’s hot. Or it could be that I tell myself I’m just browsing to get inspired. But most likely it’s just because I love books.

But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as I peruse the aisles, it’s the influx of New Adult, or NA, books on the shelves. Their stories involve college age characters that will usually incorporate “hotter” story lines, allowing the writer to pursue topics or sexual situations that may be considered inappropriate for younger characters. There’s clearly a market for New Adult, and authors are taking advantage of the newfound enthusiasm in that particular genre…and rightfully so. In fact, I have quite a few friends who focus primarily on writing NA. I’m thrilled that these authors have created a niche for themselves and have given so many people a reason to pick up a book and read. To spin a familiar phrase – if you write it, they will come!

As for me, I am still in love with Young Adult. It’s the genre that got me to fall in love with reading all those years ago as a preteen. It focuses on an age that introduced us to first love, first heartbreak, complicated friendships, strained parental relationships, and searching for who we will one day become. And in high school, escape becomes vital to those kids that need a way to forget their own problems and issues. Being a teenager is rough – but reading about other teens who face, and defeat, adversity can offer the reader a positive outlet for their anxiety.

Now, there are those who will try to make you believe that YA books belong only in the hands of teenagers. They insist that adults who read YA are only looking for a simple and easy read – that these same adults are looking for uncomplicated stories that are nothing more than typical teenage angst. But I can tell you that those people are wrong There is nothing simple or easy about Young Adult. In fact, just head over to your local bookstore and pick up the hottest YA reads out right now. “Maze Runner”, “If I Stay”, “The Fault in Our Stars”, and “The Hunger Games” are just a few that prove that there’s nothing simple about the fictional life of a teenager. These characters are deep, complicated and thoughtful. They deal with real life issues like death, fear, love, hate, and injustice and handle it all with the grace and dignity that most adults would envy. They believe in the unbelievable and carry with them the unmistakable teenage spirit.

It isn’t so much about the age of those young characters as it is their attitude toward life. Think back to your own teenage years. You thought you’d live forever. You thought that you were indestructible. And when someone broke your heart or tore open your soul, you felt like your life was over and that you’d never be whole again. Yet, somehow you managed to bounce back each time and move on. As we grow older, we somehow become jaded and forget how to be as resilient as our younger selves. Bravery is something we seem to lose as we age, but I for one regain some of it each time I open my laptop and give my characters the strength to face anything that comes their way.

This is why I love to write YA as much as I love to read it. I’m able to discover strengths in my own characters that I didn’t know they had when I first began writing them. And somewhere inside those characters, I discover that I’ve placed a bit of myself in each one – the good, the bad, the fearful, and the brave.  I live vicariously through those characters every time I pick up a book. By reading (and writing) YA, we  can remind ourselves what it is to be young again – to be truly free from society’s idea of who we should be and how we should act. My characters say what I could never say at that age – do what I was too afraid to act on myself.

I recently reached out to a few of my friends and asked them why they loved YA and what it meant to them. Their responses were overwhelming, and I wanted to share some of them with you.

Author, Jo Michaels – “I get a kid’s perspective on things and get to watch someone grow up on the pages as they do things most adults secretly dream of doing.”

Author, Amy Miles – “Teens want to have a voice. To feel like they matter. That people hear them. Books give them an outlet to experience the world and feel like they can escape the terrible things that may be happening in their real life.”

Author, Eva Pohler – “I love YA because they usually portray a coming of age in which the protagonist comes into her own – becomes empowered. To me, that is very inspirational.”

Editor, Wendy Felber – “I read YA because there is a side of me that believes in the impossible possibilities. I think, as adults we are jaded, having to be so realistic that we lose the wonder and mystery, the innocence of not knowing our limits, of having no limits. In YA, I can live in those moments, remember what it is like to have no boundaries, and know that the older I get, I need to find some fiction to fit into my life and not live so seriously.”

Author, Chelsea Starling – “I admit to sometimes feeling jaded as an adult, and YA stories remind me what it feels like to be faced with responsibilities, huge mistakes (that seem so small now) and that soul-aching first love, which can never be repeated, no matter how we pine for it. It’s fun to live in those moments again, when all was wrong and yet so right with the world.”

Author, Elizabeth Sharp – “The characters aren’t jaded and they can still believe in magic. Their lives are still ahead of them, and everything that entails. And their emotions are so exaggerated – they love with all their heart, hate with every fiber, sorrow comes from their toes.”

Author, Morgan Wylie – “It’s about the ‘firsts’: First kiss, first breakup, first romance, etc. Especially as I read and write fantasy and paranormal, it’s also about the journey, about adventure, and escape…escaping the day-to-day things, the drama, the dullness – whatever it may be.”

So, to those who feel that YA books belong in the hands of teenagers – you are partly correct. The truth is that YA books belong in the hands of the young, both in age and in spirit.

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An Open Letter to my Niece as she Starts College

My dearest niece,

Today is you birthday, and you are headed off to the hallowed halls of higher education. You thought being a freshman in high school was rough? Well, pull up your big girl panties and get ready for the ride of your life.

College is a whole new world filled with fun, stress, and changes that will forever shape your future.

Since I’m the queen of unsolicited advice when it comes to you and my daughters, I thought…”Why not offer up some useful advice about how to get through college without screwing it up?”

So…here it goes.

1) College isn’t for everybody. But you decided to further your education and attend a school that is hours away from your parents…and me. So, my first bit of advice is this: Don’t forget WHY you’re going to college. You’re going there to learn. You’re going so that when you get out, you have accumulated knowledge that you didn’t have before you went in so you can find a career you love. Remember that. College = Knowledge.

2) This brings me to my second point. In college, there will be men. Notice, I didn’t say boys. Boys no longer exist in your world. They can be a wonderful distraction, but they’re just that. A distraction. Refer back to #1.

3) Speaking of men, there are some that will do or say anything to get what they want from you. Now, I said ‘some’. Not ALL men are pigs, but unfortunately there will be guys with selfish intentions who will try to sweet talk their way into your life. It is your job to figure out which ones are crap and which ones are worth your time. I can’t give you much advice on how to determine which is which. But, I will say this…a woman’s gut instinct is rarely wrong. Listen to yours. If you get even the slightest bad vibe…tell him to take a hike. A really long one.

4) Make friends. Make all kinds of friends. Don’t just make friends with the people who are just like you. That’s boring. Make friends who have different interests than you – people who like different kinds of music, movies, and books. Learn what makes people tick – learn their passions and their dreams. People like that will teach you what the real world is like. Because one day, you will be out in the real world with a real job and “spoiler alert”…you will work with people who are vastly different from you. If you can’t figure out how to get along with different kinds of people in college, the real world is gonna suck.

5) Study

Your Aunt BJ, headed off for college. Don't laugh...that outfit was very chic.

Your Aunt BJ, headed off for college. Don’t laugh…that outfit was very chic.

6) You’ll have a roommate. You may get along with her. Then again, you may not. This is a great way to learn what marriage is like. Living with someone you don’t always see eye to eye with in a small, confined space? That’s almost exactly like marriage. Have a fight? Talk it out. You’re right and they’re wrong. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. They’re messy? They snore? They don’t like how you make your bed? Welcome to being an adult. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and apologize, even when you’re not wrong. Show an interest in what they’re doing. Tell them how much you appreciated them cleaning the bathroom. It’s all about compromise, give and take. Like I said – just like marriage.

7) Study some more

8) Learn how to prioritize. This will be one of the most valuable things you’ll ever master. Classes and schoolwork before play. Hard work before fun. Which paper to write first. Figuring out what takes priority in life is part of being in adult, so learn this now.

9) You’re not in high school anymore.

10) You won’t get awards in college for participation. If you want something, you’re going to have to work for it.

11) If you screw up. Own it. People will respect you much more if you admit failure than making excuses for what you’ve done.

12) Keep studying

13) Back to those men. Don’t date someone just because he’s popular, well-built, and hot. Because that’s just stupid. Popularity goes away after you graduate, even the best built guys eventually gain a bit of weight, and sometimes hot guys lose their hair. You date someone because they make you laugh. You date someone because they would rather stay in with you than hang out with their friends. You date someone because they’re the first person you want to call when something good happens. You date him because he makes you smile and isn’t jealous, rude to waiters, and secretly cries during your favorite chick flick. And you continue dating him because it turns out he’s your best friend.

14) Have fun. Up until now, I’ve talked about hard work and remembering that college is there for you to learn and not screw around. But it’s also a time to find yourself. But do it intelligently. Don’t do something that could get you arrested or killed. Drinking is prevalent in college. Be smart and use your head. One day, you’re going to be married and have children of your own. When you’re about to do something, ask yourself this question: “Will I be able to tell my children about this one day?” If the answer is no…don’t do it.

15) Refer back to #1

Your Mother

Your mother

16) Call your mother at least once a week. Mostly because she will miss you and because you love her, but partly because if you don’t I’ll never hear the end of it.

17) Remember to sleep once in a while.

18) I  know I mentioned it before, but don’t drink. I would hope you’re smart enough that I don’t have to mention the drug thing.

19) Go to the store with your friends and buy ridiculous costumes. Put them on and spend a Saturday in downtown making fools of yourselves and taking pictures and doing goofy things. You are only young once.

20) Listen to me or don’t. It’s up to you. But let me leave you with this – high school wasn’t the best years of your life. College won’t be either. Your best years are yet to come. Have fun. Be silly. Be yourself, and find yourself.

 

Why YA Books Matter

3DMy 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.

A Letter to an 18-Year-Old Me

Dear BJ,

The age of 18 is going to be a rough time for you. Life for any teenager can be hard, but only I can understand how out-of-place you feel in a world that sees you as someone that you’re not. People laugh at your pain and the constant cloud over your head. Unable to express how you truly feel to anyone, you are trapped inside your own mind while the real you is desperately trying to figure out how to exist in this crazy world.

18 years old. It's a big world out there.

18 years old. It’s a big world out there.

I promise you…one day you will find that place.

But until you do, you will fail many times in life. Against your better judgement, you will make countless mistakes and hurt people you love. But don’t let that define who you are. When someone pushes you down, get back up. When you feel self-doubt taking over your thoughts, push them away. When people around you tell you that you’re a failure, smile and walk away. But most of all, be confident in yourself and the abilities that God gave you. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for.

People will try take advantage of your trusting nature and your desperate need to belong. It will send you down the wrong path more than once. And yet, you will turn yourself around and start over, because that’s what you do. You are an expert at starting over. It’s all right to feel bad, to cry and even be angry, but whatever you do…don’t blame others for your failure or the predicament you find yourself in. Take responsibility and own your mistakes. People will respect you for it.

You are much smarter than you think. Stop sabotaging yourself at every turn. Be of aware whom you share your aspirations with since most people don’t believe in dreams. And more times than not, you will find yourself being talked out of everything you want in life by people who claim to love you. Turn those people loose. Stop letting others dictate what you believe you can accomplish in life.

Later in life, people you love will hurt you deeply, but that is no excuse to push absolutely everyone away for fear of getting hurt. Life is lonely without good friends.

BJ...college bound.

BJ…college bound.

Follow your gut. If it feels wrong, don’t do it. If you’re not sure, don’t say it. If they seem fake, they are. A woman’s intuition is rarely wrong, and yours in particular is always spot on. Trust yourself.

Dream. Never stop dreaming. Dream bigger than you can imagine.

You know that desire you have to discover your ultimate purpose in life? You will find that purpose one day. You will become a mother, and it will be the most important task you ever take on in life. And as a mom, you will make mistakes…but your children will learn from you and those mistakes. They will go on to make you proud and will accomplish amazing things. One will influence and affect the lives of special children who will rely on her for her softness and kind heart. Another will one day influence the world with her words and her creativity and will carve out a niche of her own. And yet another will show the world what hard work and determination can do while making everyone around her smile. They will be your legacy, and they will always, always make you proud.

Your 3 biggest achievements back in 2007.

Your 3 biggest achievements back in 2007.

But you have another purpose in this world as well. One day, life is going to kick you when you’re down. And just when you feel you’ll never get up again, you will find a way to climb out of that hole and discover a new lease on life. It will once again give you a reason to dream. Even when doubt sets in and you feel that what you’ve done is rubbish, push through and continue to believe in yourself. When people around you laugh and talk about it behind your back, walk away with your head held high. It’s those same people who try to discourage your dreams that are bitter about failing at their own.

Despite a life full of ups and downs, one day you will succeed. And in that moment, you will look at yourself in the mirror and declare that you have finally figured out who you are. But if I tell you who that is now, you will never get to experience the adventure that is about to be your life..the good and the bad. Because in the end, it’s the combination of joy and angst that ultimately makes you the person you will be become.

So, I leave you with this one piece of advice. Open your eyes wide, spread your wings and fly. You are a shooting star. Allow yourself to believe in your dreams. You won’t be disappointed.

Love,

You

An Open Letter to my Daughter on her 18th Birthday

(The following is an open letter to my eldest daughter today on her 18th birthday. It is unedited and stands as is…a testament of a mother’s love for her child.)

Dear Sky,

Today, you turn 18 years old. You have reached a major pinnacle in your life, but it has only just begun. I eagerly wait with anticipation to see what your life has in store for you. Of all the things I am capable of giving you today, I feel my words are the most valuable.

These are exciting times for you: finishing high school, going to college, moving out on your own, starting a career, paying your own way, dating, marriage, having kids. The possibilities are endless. But, I’m not going to lie. At times, life is going to get rough. It’s inevitable; however, it’s all in how you handle the stress of life that determines whether or not you will succeed. Having a negative attitude toward the stress and being pessimistic will not, I promise you, resolve anything. Taking deep breaths, keeping an optimistic attitude and developing a character that doesn’t quit will take you much further in life than anyone tells you.

I remember back 18 years ago to the day you were born and smile as I recall my first words upon your arrival. “She’s beautiful! She looks like a troll doll!” (I blame the drugs, but who could blame with that little tuft of hair sticking straight up like that!) From that moment on, my life evolved around you. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep you safe. I know I’ve told you this before, but being adopted myself I looked at you as my first real blood relative. That moment of your birth was the day I realized I wasn’t alone in the universe. I had you.

When I look at you, I see my own eyes looking back at me. They are thoughtful, ambitious, spontaneous and quick to find the good in others. I can only hope you learn to find the good in yourself. People will disappoint you. It’s in their nature. It’s the ones who disappoint you, own up to it, apologize and never do it again that are worth keeping around. At the same time, be careful with whom you choose to associate and don’t be so naïve to believe that you can trust just anyone. Make others prove their worthiness to be trusted as anyone of sound mind will ask of you. Be someone people can rely on, but don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of either. Stand up for yourself and for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Love yourself and don’t allow anyone to make you feel less of a person through their words or actions. You, and you alone, are in control of your emotions and well-being. By allowing someone else to taint your self-worth, you give them power over you.

Choose your battles. Life is too short to be arguing with someone all the time about everything. This goes for friends and family as well as any future romantic relationships. Be empathetic and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective. You will be rewarded in ways that you have yet to understand.

Don’t be a bystander…ever. Get involved.

A smile at the right time will always go a long way.

When you find the love of you life and eventually get married, let go of the little things. The toilet seat doesn’t matter. Who forgot to unload the dishwasher means nothing. Whose turn it is to change the baby’s diaper isn’t worth the argument. Most things in life are “little things”. By learning to go with the flow and learning to laugh at the appropriate moments, your marriage will be successful.

You have potential for great things. Your love of children and kids with special needs is one of the things that make you amazing. Remembering that they are the reason you have a purpose in life will take you far…farther than I think you realize.

Marry your best friend. Don’t settle. He should make you laugh. Whatever you do, don’t allow him to place you on a pedestal to be worshipped, because when valuables fall, they break. Make sure he sees you as an equal and is willing to walk beside you and not force you to the rear. Make your marriage first and your children second. By doing so, your children will see what a real, loving marriage is and will be all the better for it.

If it feels wrong, don’t do it. If you know it’s wrong, don’t go along with it.

Be a leader, not a follower.

Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. Yes, you’re now officially an adult, but that definition goes far beyond just being a number. Being an adult means being responsible with all aspects of your life. There is plenty of time to move out and live on your own. Other than your current job after school, your only other job for the next few years should be discovering who you are as a person, going to school, and learning from the mistakes of the adults around you. There are many of us who came before you that have made plenty of mistakes, me included. Don’t make the same ones just because you want to be treated as an adult.

Think long-term and not short-term. The mistakes you make now can haunt you forever. You don’t want to live with that kind of guilt.

Ask for advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness…instead, it is a sign of maturity that shows you know the depth of your limitations.

If someone gives you constructive criticism, don’t assume they’re being critical. Take it for what it is and smile. It may be the best advice you ever receive.

Above all else, remember you are loved. Even though we can’t be together today, a huge milestone in your life, you are surrounded by people who would each give their own lives to protect you and keep you safe. None of us want to see you fall, fail or get hurt. Your family is forever.

Follow your dreams. Never give up on something you desperately want. Ever.

Don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made in life.

You are my first-born. You are love and all things good in my heart. When you hurt, I hurt. When you have joy, I have joy.

Happy birthday baby. I love you…forever.

Mom