YA Love and Breakups

When I was in high school, two things were important to me: friendships and relationships. (Okay, yes, family was important to me as well, but I didn’t daydream about what I was going to eat with my parents when I got home; I daydreamed about what plans my best friend and I had for the weekend, or if Crush saw me in the hallway). Since this is what I know, it’s what I write about. I write about the girl who pines for the guy from afar. I write about the friendship that unexpectedly (but always expectantly to outside observers) blossoms into something more. I write about how a relationship can change a person. I write how relationships (both romantic and not) are essential. I was the girl who got red faced when a guy talked to me, the one who cried when he broke up with me. I was the one who dreamed about what would happen if he’d talk to me.

That was me, and because it’s what I know, what feels real, that’s what I write.

There’s been a lot of hatred towards YA romance lately, and it makes me kind of sad. There are sighs when a love interest is introduced, cringes when a female character cries over a boy. It seems weak and trite to some readers, but to me it feels real.

Because let’s be honest, breakups suck. Unrequited love sucks. Battles with best friends suck and I don’t think it makes a character seem weak or whiny to feel that. I don’t think it’s realistic to have a main character not change after a breakup, or be unfeeling. I don’t think it’s weird for a teenager to be sad. And I would never call any of these problems trivial.

This complaint has kind of had a negative affect on my writing lately, making me feel a bit self-conscious of what I thought was normal. It’s believed that YA books shouldn’t revolve around a relationship. That when hurt a female should be strong and not weep, not be affected by love. And that to portray a character fighting for another is wrong because that’s not a good example to set.

The thing is, when writing, I think of my audience all the time. I think of the teens that volunteer at the library, the ones that come to my programs. I think about what I want them to read, and how I want my characters to be just like them. Because they’re human. And you know what? They have relationship problems, too.

I don’t think a character should CHANGE EVERYTHING AND LOSE EVERYTHING for the person s/he likes, I don’t think they should become someone they’re not, and I don’t think they should DEVOTE themselves to another. And I DON’T think every book should have a relationship. That’s not important to some stories, and I like those books quite a bit, too. But I do think characters should be able to love. And should be affected by love. And get giddy when that guy/girl looks at them in the hallway, and cry when that person decides to date someone else. I think they should be able to have a million flaws because that’s a real teen. They’re full of complexities that are so deep they don’t even know they’re there.

Because I know that when I was a teen, when I started dating Crush, it was the best moment of the year. And when we broke up months later, it was the worst. And I know I felt everything in between, and I want my characters to feel that, too. And not be ashamed to be sad or in love. It doesn’t mean they’re not strong. It means they’re fighting a battle that may not bring down governments or change a dystopian society around, but is still important.

I would never tell a teen they’re wrong or weak for loving.

Life, The Universe, and Nerdfighters

Permit me to be sappy for a second.

The above video was taken last weekend. After planning it for quite a few months, my Nerdfighter Library Meetup* happened, and it couldn’t have gone better. Twenty-one awesome people showed up, 17 of which were teens (which is a very high teen count for our library. Very high.) Everyone was so nice, and so excited. We were all unified by one common interest, and it showed. And, really, by the end, I couldn’t have been happier.

That is, until one of the teens posted the above video and I kind of teared up. Because, you guys, this is my life.

At 28, I’ve had three different careers. Not jobs, careers. I was a high school English teacher. (I quite\ after a year because it was just so hard. I loved some of my students, and I would have continued for them, but there’s just so much pressure, and honestly, I was only 23 at the time. And I sucked at discipline.) I was a copyrighter/magazine editor. (Fine jobs, but I never wanted to write for myself when I was writing all day. I started hating writing because it was forced and assigned, not creative and fun.) And now I’m a librarian. (And, yeah, still a writer, too.) I was so scared to start library school because even though it sounded amazing…what if I didn’t like it? What if it was just another failed career move? I went into the degree knowing I wanted to work with teens again, and I left confident.

And now, a year and a month after I graduated, I have that job. I’m a public librarian working with teens. And for the first time in my career, I can honestly say I love my job. I know how rare it is to hear that. I know how lucky I am. And don’t think it’s all cotton candy and unicorns and happy soundtracks. There are bad days. There are bad patrons. But I get over them because I know there’s also so much more.

There’s a little boy who called me his favorite librarian after I recommended a book he ended up liking. There’s a little girl who visits me weekly, just to say hi. There’s a teen who asked for relationship advice, and other who asked for career/college advice. There are the moments I know I’ve made someone’s day better just by having the one thing they were looking for in stock. And there are teens who make videos of my events and post them to YouTube because they genuinely had a good time.

This is my job. I honestly couldn’t ask for me.

*For librarians interested, I’ll post more on planning this meetup later.

Teens of Today

At the library, the majority of our volunteers are teens. They’re all really sweet and really helpful and pretty much only know me as that stereotypical librarian (complete with glasses and cardigan. I am a walking stereotype). So it’s fun when they ask me something and my answer surprises them. I was a drummer? I was in the circus? Yeah, like that.

So today I was talking to one of our volunteers, and mentioned being obsessed with pop punk when I was around his age. To my delight, the genre is still around and while I don’t know any of the current popular artists, I’m happy to know people still like it. So he jotted down some bands for me to check out, and I told him I’ll come back with recommendations of my own.

And that – just that – is why I write young adult novels. Because while times do change (I didn’t have a cell phone in high school; Facebook wasn’t invented; Leonardo DiCaprio was the dreamiest – okay he still is), basic things don’t. In high school there will always be the jocks, the cheerleaders, the geeks, the drama kids (me!), the artists, the guys in bands.

But also? There will always be heartbreak so bad you don’t know if you can go on, best friends who you’ll give your life for, crushes that are dreamt about in class over and over again, embarrassments that you think will haunt you forever, pressure that’s beyond overwhelming, songs that feel like they were written just for you, and moments you know you’ll remember forever.

Yeah, I’m a decade older than those teens, but I know what they’re going through because I went through it, too. And knowing that – knowing how things really don’t change – is really kind of great, isn’t it?