I've been thinking a lot lately about why it is that I write young adult novels. After all, those teen years of my life from middle school through high school honestly were some of the worst, most painful and agonizing times for which you could not pay me enough to relive. Between the jealousies, the girl dramas, the emotional rollercoasters, the painful breakups, agonizing over body image, popularity, the brand of my jeans, and bad hair days, it's a wonder I survived. So why would I ever want to go back there and immerse myself back into a world where every single event that happens, big and small, feels like the end of the world?
I suppose I write for teenage me, because in my stories I always favor the underdog, the stereotypes can be broken, the prettiest girl doesn't always get the hottest guy, and the longshot can pay off. I rewrite history - maybe my history. Maybe I simply give some other teenager out there hope that they can rewrite theirs too. Because when you are a teenager navigating those years, so much energy is wasted on all the wrong things and the wrong people. We judge ourselves by how we are viewed through the lenses of our peers, many of whom we do not even like or respect to begin with. We try to blend in lest we earn ourselves an unsavory label: geek, freak, loser, whatever. It's not until we become older that we realize that letting our freak flag fly is what makes us so individual, so cool, and that all those people that flew under the radar in high school are actually the ones with the genuine hearts and the real stories. I write for them too.
My stories are filled with humor and heartbreak and unlikely friendships where limits are tested, often by the social infrastructures of high school or family life. My characters are resilient and dig deep to discover their own self worth, even if they may not know initially it exists at all. Perfect is boring and bad decisions and scars are what make the stories compelling and stomach churning.
The first book I wrote, BAND GEEK, did not sell. A common thread of feedback was that a boy main character was a tough sell, because although a girl would be interested in getting inside a guy's head and seeing how he thinks, they wouldn't be interested in THIS guy's head. Why? Because he was an awkward band geek. I felt like that was selling a potential audience short, as well as perpetuating the idea that the only interesting characters to read about are ones who are handsome and super jocks or bad boys from the wrong side of the tracks. Nice guys fumbling their way through high school hoping to catch a break? Not so much. I ESPECIALLY write for THAT kid. For all those kids in the marching band with my son that year I wrote BAND GEEK who didn't have a place in young adult literature except as a negative geeky stereotype, but they were the kids who devoured books and loved to read. And they wanted to read about one of their own, someone like them who made it through okay and maybe even got the girl of his dreams or got noticed for all the right reasons. Maybe that story would instill a little hope. Because it's awfully hard to find hope sometimes when you are a teenager.
I write young adult novels because I want to help instill that hope. I go back into that world willingly in the hopes that the characters I create may help some reader find the humor and know that they are not alone. That anything (and anyone) can change for the better. And I will never stop writing the kinds of stories where the underdog wins, because those are the stories that fill my heart and make all the battle scars worth it.