I apologize in advance for this EPIC of a blog post.
A while back, I was told my writing “read too young.”
I tried to brush it off, but I couldn’t figure it out. I often have scenes featuring “adult” topics: death, sex, drinking, college, etc. But then I have scenes where my characters roll around on the floor and laugh together, talking about what kinds of tattoos they want to get. In the book I’m writing now, my main characters go swing on a playground and splash around in a fountain, and another character (who’s 19) plays with action figures in his tree house. So yeah, I guess the stuff I write can be very silly.
Yesterday, I finally figured it out when I was importing old CDs to iTunes. In high school, I was totally into making mixed CDs. From the amount of CDs I found in my attic, you’d think that’s all I did when I was a teenager. Some of these CDs are 14 years old, so you can imagine my surprise when I played them and realized not only has my taste in music not changed, but neither has my silliness factor!
I found I named some of my CDs things like:
• Minutemen, Mosquitoes and Australia
• Food is Good
• Gumdrops and Toothpicks
• Ode to Manboobs
• Kool-Aid and Manboobs
And the best one of all…
• Ode to Myself
When I found the CDs, I giggled and laughed, and showed my husband, and giggled and laughed some more, and he stared at me, shaking his head, wide-eyed.
Back in high school, I remember giving such CDs to my friends and they would giggle and laugh and say, “Yuck! Manboobs!”
So after remembering all this, it clicked: When I was 16, I was making these stupid CDs, but my friends and I were all still very much obsessed with things like guys and sex and drinking and going to crazy field parties.
That’s just what teenagers do.
Then recently, I was over at a fifteen-year-old girl’s house. She had three friends over, and they sat in the kitchen for, I kid you not, two hours, giggling and laughing about NOTHING.
NOTHING HAS CHANGED
In BEFORE I FALL, a girl keeps re-living the last day of her life. She keeps dying. That’s a pretty deep topic for a 14 year old to read about. Also, the main character drinks and obsesses about sex and worries about gossip, among other “mature” things. But then there’s this scene where she and her friends cook dinner together and dance around the kitchen and laugh.
It brought everything full circle. I liked that, even though this girl keeps facing the harsh truths of her life and her death, she still acted silly with her friends.
Then I was reading TWENTY BOY SUMMER, and while the book features a death, there’s a cute scene involving two teenagers smearing each other with cake.
Maybe this is why I like the ALICE books so much – Alice faces all sorts of tough scenarios: sex, drinking, friends getting pregnant, but in the end, Alice is still Crazy Alice, doing stupid things like stealing an orange cone from the highway in the middle of the night.
But then I read other young adult books featuring tough situations involving death and suicide and cancer (I could name fifty books off the top of my head), and yes, they are deep and moving and make me think, but sometimes I wish the teenage characters would do silly things like roll around on the floor, laughing about NOTHING. And it doesn’t happen – the characters are serious the ENTIRE book.
I loved SOME GIRLS ARE. It was a great book. But damn was it serious. I kept thinking, why are these 17-year-olds so serious and mean and not having any fun? Isn’t this the time of life when teenagers are supposed to be going nuts?
IN REAL LIFE
Yes, teenagers will face things like whether to drink or have sex, or they may have to deal with someone having cancer or being in a coma or dying, but I’m sure they’re still being silly.
I remember when I was 15, my good friend Ragan and I were managers of the boys’ soccer team. We spent several afternoons a week being surrounded by 30 guys (some of them were very very hot), so sure, we were thinking about hooking up like a dehydrated person in the desert thinks about water.
But you know what? We didn’t sit around thinking deeply about hooking up or being jealous of other girls or anything like that – we were coming up with ridiculous pick-up lines and testing them on all the soccer players. And then we’d giggle and run away, and then we’d go back to her house and make popcorn and watch the Austin Powers movies and roll around on the floor.
Two of my best friends in high school were guys. I remember my mom said to my dad, “Those boys only want one thing. Miranda shouldn’t be spending so much time with them.” And my dad replied, “But all they ever do is talk about nothing and laugh for hours.”
KIDS MATURE AT DIFFERENT SPEEDS
In one of my books, my main character and her best guy friend often share a bed, sleeping “head to toe.” One reader told me, “I don’t buy that at all. In high school, I never would’ve shared a bed with a guy.” But then I mentioned this to my mother-in-law, and she said, “I had absolutely no problems with any of your scenes in your book. Those kids acted like teenagers through and through.”
And it’s not because the parents are stupid or neglectful, it’s because THAT’S WHAT TEENAGERS DO.
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is A MATCH MADE IN HIGH SCHOOL. There’s no death. Nobody’s in a coma. It’s a bunch of teenagers acting silly, acting like teens. And yes, there’s discussion of sex and drinking.
I’m not completely sure what I’m trying to say here except I think young adult literature could use a whole lot more silliness and less seriousness.
In leaving out the silliness, are we forcing kids to grow up too soon?
What do you all think?