When people hear that I write novels for teenagers, they often respond with a question that I find ever so slightly disingenuous: “How can you remember all that stuff?”

I really shouldn’t accuse complete strangers of lying to my face. After all, it’s hard to think of something to say when someone tells you her profession (“You’re a lawyer? That must be so…interesting”), and people might feel that a simple, “Cool” will make them sound un-literary. So “How can you remember all that stuff?” could just be a way of making conversation with someone whose occupation sounds dull or bewildering or, I don’t know, weird. Assuming one of these to be the case, I smile and shrug and say something along the lines of, “Just lucky, I guess.” Since I teach high school, acquaintances often assume I simply write about my students, and here too, I don’t disabuse them of their notions.


But when people ask me, “How can you remember all that stuff?” what I really want to say in response is, “How can you not?”


It seems to me that there is, quite simply, no more vulnerable, terrible, memorable time of life than adolescence. Burdened with many of the responsibilties of adulthood (complicated romantic relationships, demanding friendships, scholastic responsibilities that will impact your future), you have none of the perspective that adulthood brings—the knowledge that broken hearts heal, that friends who take without giving are not really friends, that there are many paths to happiness, that the life we live is rarely the life we plan. Before we learn these lessons, each setback feels permanent, each disappointment epic.  


It is one of the blessings of adulthood that this is no longer the case. A few years ago, I was invited to a party for a friend whose trendy radio show was launching a TV series. The party would be filled with people who (to me) are hugely famous, celebrities whose stories I’ve listened to and admired for years. I was giddy with excitement about being invited and spent the days before the party impressing (annoying?) my equally awed colleagues with my invitation.


And then my son got a stomach virus. The day of the party he wasn’t deathly ill, but he spent the afternoon throwing up and by evening he was running a significant enough fever that I couldn’t see leaving him with a babysitter. I called my friend and wished her luck, told her I’d be thinking of her and asked her to call me the next morning to tell me all the details. Then I settled down to an evening spent nursing a sick pre-schooler.


I was certainly sorry to miss the party. But it was a fleeting disappointment, and the next morning I was more relieved that my son was better than I was sad about not having gone out the night before.


Had I been in high school and had the same thing happened, I think I would have died. I certainly would have wished for death, just as I wished for death (or at least a new life in the form of the witness protection plan) when boys broke up with me, when my mother wouldn’t buy me the pair of jeans I wanted (needed), when I had knock down drag out fights with my best friend.


The beauty of adulthood, for me, is that while terrible things do happen (marriages break up, people get laid off, life-long friendships end), we are, for the most part, equipped to handle them. I’m not denying there exist horrors that lay low even the most capable of adults, but these are horrors. Real horrors, not parties sick children prevent us from attending or designer jeans our incomes prevent us from purchasing.


Writing about teenagers (for me), means not just remembering but being willing to dwell in that place where life felt like walking a tightrope without a net. When the boy I liked was the last boy I would ever like, the friend I fought with was the last friend I would ever have, the college rejection letter was the finale of a promising academic career.


I believe that while many people choose not to remember what those things felt like (and who would blame them?), few have truly forgotten. Sure, the name of the girl who threw the party where you first kissed some guy in the closet might have escaped you, but has the feeling of emerging from the closet (everyone knowing what you just did and wondering about it)? If it has, I guess you’re lucky.


If it hasn’t, you might want to write a book.


Melissa Kantor is the author of numerous books for young adults including If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? The Breakup Bible, and, most recently, The Darlings in Love. If you’d like to comment on this blog post (high school memory, anyone?), please do so! I’ll choose one comment at random and send you a copy of the book of your choice! (To read the first chapter of any of my books, go to www.melissakantor.com and click on “books.”)

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Comment by Nissi Mutale on July 16, 2012 at 4:09am

I am in my early 20s and my first book'Finding Me' looks back on my relationships during my teen years. I vividly remember feeling like everything was going to last forever and sometimes still get those niggling epic moments. As a young adult I love writing young adult fiction because I believe it is so very important to capture such a precious time in life. Great post!

Comment by Daphne Q on June 30, 2012 at 5:17pm

Interesting perspective, Melissa... thanks for sharing

Comment by Jodi Su Tharan on February 12, 2012 at 2:48pm

Yes! I am so happy to sit here nodding my head in agreement with you! Yes yes yes!

Comment by Tia Silverthorne Bach on February 11, 2012 at 7:41pm

Love your post. My middle school memories were so imbedded in my psyche/mind/emotions, etc, that my mom and I wrote a book together about the teenage years (she wrote the mom's perspective, and I wrote the teenager POV of the same events). While it is fiction, so much was built on real experiences. I remember it vividly. People often ask me how I captured the teenage voice so well. I feel like the voice is still mine, but as an adult I control the urges more. ;-)


I love writing from the teenage point of view, because it's such an exploratory time. The characters can grow so much and experience intense emotions. There are things that happened to me in my teenage years that I still would have trouble processing (my best friend died of Anorexia), much less then.


I look forward to looking into your work, not only for me and my own journey, but because I have three daughters (12, 10 & 7). And they are all avid readers.


Thanks for sharing this!

Comment by Margaret on February 11, 2012 at 9:28am
My most embarrassing high school memory is when I was a junior and had planned and put together the prom as president of the class and didn't receive one request for a date. I had my dress made (Pick taffeta) I had an appointment for my hair, but no date. My father asked if he should call one of the boys planning on going stud. "Noooooo!" I ended up calling an acquaintance from another town to see if he would escort me the morning of. He happened to have his tux rented already for their high school prom the following night and agreed that I could be a part of a threesome with his buddies who had dates. I remember the feeling of walking on clouds as I entered the decorated gym on his handsome arm. There was a hush and then the whisper . . . how did she get a date with him - the most awesome guy at the rival high school. We danced almost every dance and went to the party afterward at my friend's home. He took me home at 3 am - with pre-arranged approval from my parents. I was dreamily exhausted. I wanted to preserve my orchid to wear to church the following day - like all the other girls were planning to do. Wandering out to the back porch where the refrigerator was I pulled the door open and laid it on the shelf and then plopped into bed fully dressed. My mother woke me a scant 4 hours later to do Saturday chores. "Where is your orchid?" I mumbled something about the fridge. she pulled a black blob from behind her. "What's that?" Mom sighed. "You froze it." Sadness beyond despair.
Comment by Ingrid Cheng on February 10, 2012 at 6:43pm

High school is hard for many teens. I was anorexic at age 17 because my family called me "Fat Girl"and my mom told me to lose some weight. I exercised a lot and starved myself in order to look good and feel good. No matter how hard I tried, I just felt empty inside. I know many teens and women struggle with their weight and the need to look good. That's why I'm writing a book about Yoga Life Lessons. Yoga teaches  acceptance and non-judgment.

Comment by Katherine E. Hinkson on February 10, 2012 at 3:41pm

Mary Anne, You are a trip. I loved doing that to my friends and Mom. In high school, mom was taking me to work (Micky D's) and we were passing a construction site. I leaned out the window wolf whistled and ducked down, leaving Mom the only one in car. She could have killed me.

Comment by Mary Anne Benedetto on February 10, 2012 at 11:07am

I've been blessed to remain in contact with some people who have been my friends since elementary school, though many miles separate us. One friend reminded me recently of the fact that she had rescued another friend and me from ever having to ride the school bus from the time we were in 10th grade. She was just a little older and had her driver's license long before the rest of us. Each morning, she would pick us up at our homes and drive us to school in one of her family's vehicles. This particular Friday, she arrived in her dad's truck with a big camper on the back so all three of us girls were seated on the only long bench seat in the vehicle. Just as we entered the school parking lot, I ducked down so no one could see me, and it looked as though my two friends were sitting very closely in the truck. 

Needless to say, they were screeching at me to sit up so everyone could see that there was indeed a third person in the vehicle. We've been friends for forty-eight years in spite of some of the nutty things we have done!

Comment by Emily Harris on February 10, 2012 at 10:50am

Thanks for the post, Melissa. I remember, all to well, my first breakup (I was dying of a broken heart -- sigh). I currently write fiction and nonfiction and teach college students. The drama may be more instant (Twitter as a dumping device) but it's still there.

Comment by Melissa Kantor on February 10, 2012 at 10:33am

It's so wonderful to read these comments! Everyone's got such great perspective on all of these upsetting, embarrassing, unsettling experiences. If only we could write a letter to our teenage self promising her that all things pass...


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