Teen up

One of the many reasons I’m drawn to teen protagonists is that they have the benefit of being unformed while still deserving our sympathy. We expect teenagers to be selfish and egocentric. It is all about them. And if they can work through that shit while they’re teenagers, they’ll be less likely to be libertarians later.

How do you go about voicing a teen? I was asked that this weekend at my reading. Did I research them? Well, yes. I was a teen and I’m around teens. I listen to them. I still remember what it felt like to be surrounded by people and chatter and deadlines and feel entirely alone. I remember the awful pressure of constant expectations. I think you’ll be a writer, they said from the time I was in second grade.

We think when we’re finally done with high school that we’ll be free of a community comprised in some part of assholes and fuckwads. That we can just hang with people who get us, and do important work that we enjoy. But we’re being taught invaluable skills in spite of ourselves. There are assholes everywhere. We will have to be civil even when we’re cranky. At some point we may learn that the money is less important than the quality of our lives. That what we find most beautiful will strike us, over and over, like a flint stone.

We will learn to separate. To form a whole and complete self. To differentiate from our parents and values we don’t share. If teenagers have read my work before, they’ve never told me, but they’re reading it now. I wrote Giraffe People because I wanted to be blessed. I wanted to write about forming a sense of self in the maelstrom. About how we must. We must build ourselves. Without shame. Without guilt. Without fear.

You must nurture and you must begin with yourself. That’s how you build the resources to nurture those around you. To seek out need and bring aid. You learn grace by applying it to yourself. Your dark ignorant selfishness. You are worthy of love. And so are the rest of us.

The teen protagonist compels us to self-evaluate. Have I caught the voice? You tell me. Check out this rad review of Giraffe People from Out in Print.

3 thoughts on “Teen up”

  1. Yes, you caught the voice perfectly. From the first sentences, the reader is instantly back there, in the girls’ bathroom, on midnight phone calls, on projects where shared ideas catch fire, on muddy practice fields. I was transported to that time, full of unknown longings, fiery impetuous convictions, unbearable hurts, all that was all there. Great writing.
    I never considered extending grace to my teenaged self. Quick, inflexible judgment, that was me.

    Giraffe People is a beautiful book. Teens may read it and say, check yeah, but those of us who shed our teenage years like the shells of pod people will also say, thank god I made it through.

  2. <3 I remember being so overwhelmed by FEELINGS when I was a teenager. the "feeling to action" filter just wasn't there…

    I also remember trying so hard to appear put together and likable, and hiding, always hiding "the real me," because who would love me if they knew?

    I was so brave then, and so afraid at the same time.

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