books that validated my teenhood

Someday I’ll finish that fashion series I was doing. This month, for NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d go back to talking a lot about books, since ostensibly that’s what this blog is about. Also, writing. I really, really want to make NaNo work, so I might even write about what I’m writing. It’s not the big novel I’ve been working on for a hundred years that I’ve been doing research for. It’s a different one, and I think given its subject matter and style, it will be easier to write as I’m still in the semester and knee-deep in YA books. Or at least I thought that when I started this post. Now it’s 14 days into NaNo and I haven’t even done one day’s worth of writing. More on that later. First, my top four books about being a young adult, two of which were even published as YA.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. First, I’m sorry if you only knew about the book once the movie came out because it’s been around FOREVER and is amazing, and also the real cover is better but Amazon didn’t have it up anymore. Everyone thinks that The Catcher in the Rye is the seminal teen angst novel, but that’s only true if you’re from that era and sleep in piles of money. This book is actually a teen angst novel, and it’s genius. It’s one of those books, I think, that has all the people you wish you met in high school but actually didn’t meet until college. And it lets you know it’s okay to be weird, even if in fact you’re not as weird or as cool as Charlie, Patrick, or Sam. (I should say that the movie is actually completely fabulous and well done, even though Hermione Emma Watson was miscast and couldn’t keep a consistent American accent. It’s written and directed by the book’s author, and it felt nearly perfect.)

This book taught me how to be indie. It also taught me that it is kind of okay to be awkward, and even if I never quite met my own Patrick and Sam, I had Patrick and Sam, and I also got to make my own infinite moments with my version of high school. Oh, also, I scribbled that phrase and different versions of it all over everything for all of high school.

Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn. This was the first book I read where teenagers actually talked like the ones I knew – maybe it was the fact that private school kids have a different social structure than public school kids, just because they have fewer people to know and it means they can develop specialized vocabularies, or maybe it was simply that Cyd Charisse happened to talk and narrate like the people I knew because there are lots of different kinds of people. Regardless, even though our lives were in no way similar, and even though I kind of hated her because girls with boyfriends who complain about life have always made me angry, reading this book was an eye opener because I hadn’t known YA could do that, and it made me reinscribe myself as a writer because I realized that it was possible to have my voice and write a book.

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty. This is another book that got to my gut as a writer, too, not just a reader. This book does amazing things with social groups and describes how you can hate your friends but also love being with them because they know you. It shows how interactions with different social groups works and doesn’t work. And even though it had nothing to do with my experience, I loved Jess’ relationship with Marcus because it was complicated and layered, and quite frankly you see that like 1% of the time in any book about teenagers that has a romantic element to it. This book actually shows how relationships of all kinds happen and how they are gradual but instantaneous and how nobody just randomly falls “unequivocally in love” (Twilight) based on, like, two seconds of interaction with someone and some staring. You don’t have to have a big moment of loveawesome, but you do have layers of interest and interaction, and this book is all about that.

Also, ever since reading this I have time- and date-stamped my journal entries in the same way as Jessica.

Out of the Girls’ Room and Into the Night: Stories by Thisbe Nissen. This remains the only good and interesting book ever to come out of the Iowa Writers Workshop, in the sense that it’s the only book I think is unique (it takes me about seven pages of any book to sniff out its Iowa-ness, because all they do is make everyone write the same book) from that MFA. But I digress. It is great because it is short fiction and yet not boring. It is great because it’s about hazy teenhood and young adulthood, by which I mean those infinite moments that you can’t actually narrate because you don’t know what’s happening at the time because they are too perfect. It was also excellent for me as a writer because Nissen does awesome things with dialogue where the people in her stories don’t actually talk like real people; they talk like how real people write. But somehow it works and seems really honest and interesting instead of like bad writing. I don’t get how she does it, but I want to replicate it.

There are definitely some problematic broken girls in these books, but I’m ignoring them because a) that’s not the point of this post, b) I’m working on an essay on that, and c) part of finding myself in high school was finding these books and desperately wanting to be someone’s broken girl, so it’s only fair to be honest about that.


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