Having two teenagers in the house, issues having been flying around that would make for the perfect YA novel. Sadly the reality among this age group is much more painful than even the most poignantly written books can express—girl bullying, cliques, isolation, anxiety, depression, and so on. I admit to having read more than my fair share of young adult literature this year in hopes of finding some comfort in the familiar.
Honestly, it didn’t help. Instead, the contrast between the fictional stories and real life was palpable. In the stories, there was always a kind boy with a crush, a new girl that befriended the alienated protagonist, or a bully who got what was coming to them. Ah, if only it were so. This summer’s reality was extreme-- a girl in the incoming senior high school class hanged herself. And then just last week a talented musician from the 2010 graduating class killed himself. Among other things, one wonders aloud how the magnitude of their pain could have gone unnoticed. And the worry persists that no matter how overprotective and on top of things you try to be, it might not be enough to help all the kids you care about.
I reread Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman and listened to a powerful interview she gave that is now part of the extras offered on the DVD of the movie Mean Girls. As a parent, I did find the acknowledgement of typical patterns of girl bullying behavior to be helpful. But books of this kind are actually geared toward the parents. When I thought about what teens might read that could influence them, I thought about YA nonfiction.
Nonfiction can subtlety, and otherwise, reveal an important message: it’s hard for almost everyone but, look, we made it through and so can you. Here are the role models of those who successfully mucked through the emotional turmoil that is high school to become who they hoped to be. Young adults don’t need heroes placed high upon pedestals. Rather, they need to know of real people so they can honestly sense that you do not have to be superhuman to endure.
For teens, the timing is ripe to become better acquainted with the real life experiences of those behind the well-known images. Jackie Robinson had rocks thrown at him in front of his childhood home. Eleanor Roosevelt was a painfully shy child who wanted nothing more than the love her alcoholic father kept failing to provide. Being smart certainly doesn’t make you immune as evidenced by Albert Einstein who was looked upon as a failure by his teachers and treated as a social outcast by his peers.
These, among many others, are the true stories that need to be told again and made accessible to the young adult reader. They are proof positive of the possibilities of a less emotionally stressed, happy existence after high school. As parents, that’s the best message we can offer for those still stuck in the middle of it.