Though not everyone is going to agree with my take here, I’ve long operated under the assumption that young adult literature is, at least in part, a collective art therapy project. I just recently re-read one of my YA faves from recent years, Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here. During one scene in which main character Scarlett verbally eviscerates a bunch of pretentious NYC writer-bros while drunk on wine, it struck me again that the best YA walks a thin line between presenting teenhood as it actually is, and giving readers something a little better or more meaningful than the realities most of us probably struggled through as teens. YA is almost always part gritty realism, and part fantasy. Scarlett is enough like teen-me to be wholly relatable, but she also says and does things that I only wish I’d had the guts to say and do as a teen (or as an adult, for that matter). Scarlett is who I would’ve been if I’d transformed myself into a whip-smart badass who cared a lot less about what people thought of her.
Alas, I was far from badass as a teen. But who’s to say I can’t rewrite awkward moments from my teenhood, turning myself into the sassy bitch I wish I’d been? Here’s the thing. There are roughly a million moments from my teenhood that I’d like to hit the reset button on, but most of them are never going to make it into one of my books because that would be weird and I generally try not to turn my MCs into Mary Sues. What I CAN do, however, is turn some of those moments into blog posts.
Thus, I’d like to present the inaugural post of a new series I’m going to call #YAMyLife. For the next year or so, I’m going to periodically write posts in which I tell you about a cringe-worthy moment from my teenhood and then rewrite that moment starring the badass YA heroine version of me. Here goes…
When I started seventh grade, I moved from the safety of my small town’s little K thru 6 elementary school to the MIDDLE HIGH SCHOOL (yes, I swear this is actually a thing). This building housed grades 7 thru 12, was in dire need of renovations, and was also a hellmouth. (I’m kidding about that last thing. Sort of.) Those of you who grew up in small towns are probably familiar with the phenomenon of everyone butting into everyone else’s business all the freaking time, even over the most mundane things, and to an extent that is rather unhealthy. I believe this phenomena hits its peak around seventh or eighth grade and this particular moment is a prime example of it in action.
In seventh grade, I had a short break between second and third period and would usually use that break to gab in the cafeteria with friends and take a trip to the restroom, where I would do what people usually do in restrooms and then also try to tame my hair, which in the past year had gone from straight and easily managed to curly and frizzy and very confusing. Because you never know what you might need while in the restroom (tampon, hair brush, a dab of concealer, tissues for the girl having a breakdown in the next stall), and because I didn’t really trust my fellow students, I typically just brought my whole backpack into the bathroom with me.
One day, a group of well-meaning eighth grade girls informed me that bringing my backpack into the restroom was not okay. Everyone could see me, they explained, and therefore assumed that I was bringing my backpack into the restroom because I needed something period-related. They encouraged me to be more discreet by pocketing my tampons and pads. Because I was a scared-shitless seventh grader, I nodded and kept my backpack out of the restroom for the rest of the year, instead shoving whatever I might need into my pockets, which wasn’t very easy because girl-jeans.
Anyway, here’s how the whole scene should’ve gone down. To keep things interesting, I’ve written it from the perspective of Gina (not her real name), the leader of the eighth grade girls.
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It’s weird how some people who get really good grades are totally clueless about most stuff, right? But, honestly, I felt bad for her. I mean, people were talking or were going to talk. So instead of just listening to my friends giggle each time we watched her drag her dorky, monogrammed, thousand-pound backpack into the girls’ room, I called her over with a hey. She skittered toward our table, all nerves and energy, just like all the seventh grade wannabes.
“Look,” I said. “If you keep bringing your whole backpack into the bathroom like that, people are going to make assumptions. They’re going to think you’re having your period, like, all the time. You should really just shove your tampons into your pockets like everyone else.”
She blinked at me for a few seconds, and I thought for sure we were going to have to wipe a puddle of seventh-grade tears off our table. But then her deer-in-the-headlights expression warped into an unnerving little smirk.
“Wow, Gina,” she said. “First off, I want to say thank you for your concern. Out of all the things you could’ve expended your valuable energy on today, you chose to look out for my well-being. And, again, wow. Because, without even really trying, I can think of roughly a million things more important than little old me bringing my backpack into the bathroom. You guys must be bored out of your freaking minds.”
One of my friends let out a little whimper of shock and I kicked her under the table.
“But I get why you honed in on this particular thing,” the seventh grader said. “I really do. I mean, god forbid one of our fellow students be forced to think about that fact that I have a uterus that does what a typical uterus does. Because I, along with every other woman and girl on the planet, should be ashamed of my natural grossness and make every effort to hide it, right?” She shook her head with that smirk still plastered on her face.
The little bitch was mocking me.
“I’m going to go now,” she said before she slunk off to join her dorky seventh-grade friends.
“More important?” one of my friends whispered. “Like what?”
Oh, I don’t know. Global warming. AIDS. Cancer. Right-wing paramilitary terrorism. The inevitable demise of AOL Instant Messenger.
“Shut up,” I hissed. I couldn’t wait to start applying for foreign exchange programs so I could get the hell out of this hellmouth.
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I don’t want to venture out on this limb alone, so if you feel like giving some of your own cringe-worthy moments a YA revision, please do. And if you’re feeling generous, use the #YAMyLife hashtag and/or link to this post. Go forth, writers and readers, and turn yourselves into the YA heroes and heroines you were always meant to be!