1. This is me as a little girl right after learning to read, when I felt like I had access to everything:
2. This is me in middle school trying to find books that I could find myself in, so that I could avoid the pain that was puberty and the oppression that was bullying and not fitting in, that would give me the intellectual stimulation that academia was decidedly not interested in providing gifted kids:
3. This is me as a high school senior when it came to reading, homework, school, or engaging with anything:
4. These are the books I was reading in high school, when I was reading much at all. I loved them, and I could see myself inside the characters’ hearts and souls, and I recommend them to this day, but then I would try putting myself in their lives and I just couldn’t quite get there:
[top to bottom, L to R, I saw: snarky girls. wild girls. vivacious girls. teens with fabulous lifestyles. complex feelings of depression and abjection. magic and hope despite bad circumstances. girls who said fuck you to the system and were willing to risk everything to tell that to the system straight out. girls who got to travel the world. witchy girls with murky pasts.]
The thing was, even though I saw parts of myself reflected in the inner lives of the characters in these books, these books didn’t see me at all. I couldn’t fit the things happening on the inside of me and inside these characters because their outsides and their contexts did not invite me. What happened inside them would manifest differently on the outside for me than it would for them.
5. And so, this is how I felt about reading as I got older, and the number of books per year that I read went down and down and down because the thing I had given myself to, the thing that I had invested my time and my money and my brain and my own creative energy on wasn’t paying me back in kind:
6. BUT! It Gets Better.
These are recent and upcoming books in the world of YA:
Seventeen-year-old Coretta White is a black honors student whose Tumblr, Little White Lies, an expose of her brilliant-yet-clueless (and hypocritical) parents, has gone viral. She finds herself at a confusing tipping point of celebrity and success. She’s got hundreds of thousands of followers; she’s even been offered a TV deal. But Coretta has a confession: she hasn’t been writing all her own posts. Overwhelmed with the stress of keeping up with her schoolwork and applying for colleges, she secretly hires an expert ghostwriter, a forty-one-year-old white man named Karl Ristoff, to help her with the Tumblr. His contributions help make it a sensation, but unable to bear the guilt, Coretta eventually confesses the scandalous truth to a select few to free herself of the burden.
The fallout is almost instantaneous. Before she knows it, her reputation has been destroyed. The media deal disappears. Even her boyfriend breaks up with her. Then Karl is thrust into the limelight, only to suffer a precipitous fall himself. Ultimately the two join forces to find out who is responsible for ruining both of their lives . . . someone who might have even had the power to fuel their success in the first place. And to exact justice and a clever revenge, they must truly come clean to each other.* [IndieBound]
Maya Younger and her identical twin sister, Nikki, have always agreed on the important things. Friends. Boys. School. They even plan to attend the same historically African American college.
But nothing can always remain the same.
As their Portland neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, Maya feels her connection to Nikki and their community slipping away. Nikki spends more time at trendy coffee shops than backyard barbecues, and their new high school principal is more committed to erasing the neighborhood’s “ghetto” reputation than honoring its history. Home doesn’t feel like home anymore. As Maya struggles to hold on to her black heritage, she begins to wonder with whom–or where–she belongs. Does growing up have to mean growing apart?* [IndieBound]
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Poitier Sharpe is a gutsy, outgoing girl who spends her summer days hurling herself out of planes at her parents skydiving center in the Mojave Desert. Fiercely independent and willing to take risks, she challenges those around her to live life fully. But after a brush with death, Ryan is severely altered she’s not the same thrill-seeking girl she once was and seems to be teetering on the edge of psychosis. As her relationships crumble and her life unravels, Ryan must fight the girl she’s become or lose herself forever in this eerie and atmospheric thriller.* [IndieBound]
Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.
But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.* [IndieBound]
LOOK AT THOSE GIRLS.
7. This is how I feel about them:
I’m 27. I read between 150 and 250 books a year across all audience ranges, genres, and creators. I love to learn new things, I love to indulge in silly things, I love to be challenged, and I love to relax. I will always love reading. I love it more at some moments in my life than others, and I love different types of books and different times in my life, but I will always love books.I have many friends in publishing and writing and libraries, and that gives me access to not only knowledge about great books and the books themselves, but also the skills to track down every book I want.
But I can’t track down books that don’t exist. And no matter how much I love to broaden my horizons, there is still a core area of literature that I grew to love when I was young and that I don’t think I will ever shake as my Thing. We all have a Thing, a part of our identities that we always need to re-evaluate, explore again, reconsider, dwell in, wallow in, and it comes out in a type of story we like to read over and over again. I think it’s a relic of child development, where repetition of stories and memorization before you could actually read the story and iterations of story are an essential part of learning to read and learning how to live. So my Thing that I like will always be my Thing, and yours will be your Thing forever.
I honestly don’t think it’s possible to fully explain how amazing it feels to see girls who look like me on books I would have wanted to read. To know that they are both in and on the books. On the books I already wanted to read but didn’t which have anything but white girls in them before. I never wanted historical fiction as a kid. I didn’t want ghettos and gangs. I didn’t want teen pregnancy. I didn’t want poverty. I wanted mean girl cliques and popularity and school stories and wild girls like me railing against dystopian governments or parents that just feel like them.
I wanted windows as I grew older, sure, but it is so, so hard to learn to want a view into another world before you’ve had a chance to look in the mirror. When you don’t get to know yourself, you don’t have the room to want to know others. It is a lot to ask of any person – especially a teenager, whose job it is to learn about and work on herself to become who she’s going to be – to care about others when they don’t know they themselves are cared about.
That is why I cannot wait to read these books. (I know I have one of them, but they’re not all out yet, and my books are still packed away in boxes from my move.)
What’s more, I cannot wait for a girl who is still a teen, who is right in the throes of the things I remember vividly, to be lucky enough to have them at the time she needs and deserves them most.
*all of these descriptions are from the flap copy provided by publishers