Want a great book to read with your teens? Instead of having YOU tell them that things will get better, that they will grow up, that it IS possible to learn from what seem like totally awful life-ending experiences, they can hear it in this book from some of their favorite YA authors. These letters, which the authors wrote to their teen selves, are honest, funny, devastating, and ultimately redeeming. This is a great book for any family that reads together. And if your teen will tolerate it, tell them what you would tell your own teen self if you had the chance. But be honest. Teens can smell a liar faster than a vampire can sniff out a pretty girl.
One author writes about finding a knife in the toolshed. At first she’s surprised there is no blood, then she’s surprised by her parents’ reactions. Ilsa Bick, author of Draw the Dark and Ashes, turns this abrupt and powerful memory from her childhood into an equally powerful lesson for kids today about the mistake her parents were making and how she (and her readers) can learn a different lesson than the one that was being taught to her at the time.
Mark Bieschke, who is the managing editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and author of The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens writes about the night the stole his mom’s car to sneak to a tiny Detroit nightclub. “That night is going to change your life. And no, it’s not because on your way back you make an illegal left-hand turn into the police chief’s personal car…”
Embarrasing moments have their role of course. Geoff Herbach (author of Stupid Fast and Nothing Special) starts his letter with “Humiliation and hilarity are closely linked, my little friend. Don’t lie there in bed, your guts churning, as you replay the terrible scene. I’m glad your shirt stuck to the floor.” He then recounts a hilarious break-dancing-gone-bad story. He ends his essay with these wise words: “Don’t beat yourself up, okay? Just relax. Keep dancing by the highway, you splendid little dork.”
Stacey Jay, who wrote Juliet Immortal and Romeo Redeemed, tells it straight. “Misery is misery. I wish I could say that the world will be shiny and wonderful when you’re grown up, but I can’t, because it won’t.” But she does talk about how things get better, and how the really strong friendships that she had as a teenager save her life and then some. She asks her teen self to give them a hug. “From both of us.”
Laura Ellen gives her teenage self some devastating news about the future of her eyesight. But she also has advice on how to stand up to herself when others won’t. And she ends with this always-applicable advice “P.S. PLEASE stop pretending you don’t know the answers in math class! It’s okay to be smarter than the boys. Really. They’ll get over it.” Laua Ellen’s first book, which comes from her experience with legal blindness, has just been released. It’s a teen thriller called Blind Spot.
This is one for the adults too. You’ll find yourself reminiscing about your own funny or awkward or painful or humiliating pasts. Okay, so maybe it’s not for everyone.
If you had to write a letter to your own teen self, what would you say? Tell me in the comments.