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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Jill Malone

Jill Malone grew up in a military family, went to German kindergarten, and lived across from a bakery that made gummi bears the size of mice. She has lived on the East Coast and in Hawaii, and for the last seventeen years in Spokane with her son, two dogs, a hedgehog, and a lot of outdoor gear. She looks for any excuse to play guitar. Jill is married to a performance artist and addiction counselor who makes the best risotto on the planet.

Giraffe People is her third novel. Her first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, was a Lambda finalist and won the third annual Bywater Prize for Fiction. A Field Guide to Deception, her second novel, was a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley, and won the Lambda Literary Award and the Great Northwest Book Festival.

Giraffe People

Giraffe People

Between God and the army, fifteen-year-old Cole Peters has more than enough to rebel against. But this Chaplain’s daughter isn’t resorting to drugs or craziness. Truth to tell, she’s content with her soccer team and her band and her white bread boyfriend.

And then, of course, there’s Meghan.

Meghan is eighteen years old and preparing for entry into West Point. For this she has sponsors: Cole’s parents. They’re delighted their daughter is finally looking up to someone. Someone who can tutor her and be a friend.

But one night that relationship changes and Cole’s world flips.

Giraffe People is a potent reminder of the rites of passage and passion that we all endure on our road to growing up and growing strong. Award-winning author Jill Malone tells a story of coming out and coming of age, giving us a take that is both subtle and fresh.

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A Field Guide to Deception

A Field Guide to Deception

In Jill Malone’s second novel, A Field Guide to Deception, nothing is as simple as it appears: community, notions of motherhood, the nature of goodness, nor even compelling love. Revelations are punctured and then revisited with deeper insight, alliances shift, and heroes turn anti-hero—and vice versa.

With her aunt’s death Claire Bernard loses her best companion, her livelihood, and her son’s co-parent. Malone’s smart, intriguing writing beguiles the reader into this taut, compelling story of a makeshift family and the reawakening of a past they’d hoped to outrun. Claire’s journey is the unifying tension in this book of layered and shifting alliances.

A Field Guide to Deception is a serious novel filled with snappy dialogue, quick-moving and funny incidents, compelling characterizations, mysterious plot twists, and an unexpected climax. It is a rich, complex tale for literary readers.

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Red Audrey and the Roping

Red Audrey and the Roping

Occasionally a debut novel comes along that rocks its readers back on their heels. Red Audrey and the Roping is one of that rare and remarkable breed. With storytelling as accomplished as successful literary novelists like Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters, Jill Malone takes us on a journey through the heart of Latin professor Jane Elliot.

Set against the dramatic landscapes and seascapes of Hawaii, this is the deeply moving story of a young woman traumatized by her mother’s death. Scarred by guilt, she struggles to find the nerve to let love into her life again. Afraid to love herself or anyone else, Jane falls in love with risk, pitting herself against the world with dogged, destructive courage. But finally she reaches a point where there is only one danger left worth facing. The sole remaining question for Jane is whether she is willing to accept her history, embrace her damage, and take a chance on love.

As well as a gripping and emotional story, Red Audrey and the Roping is a remarkable literary achievement. The breathtaking prose evokes setting, characters, and relationships with equal grace. The dialogue sparks and sparkles. Splintered fragments of narrative come together to form a seamless suspenseful story that flows effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion.

Winner of the Bywater Prize for Fiction, Red Audrey and the Roping is one of the most memorable first novels you will ever read.

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