I think the best teen fiction is honest, not flashy, and aware that it actually is dramatic trying to figure out how to be a person.
I’ve started a short-term project to read the favorite books of friends from when they were grade school students. So I just finished a book called “Saving Francesca” by Melina Marchetta. First of all, it’s hilarious: I’m a sucker for funny people whether they’re fictional or not. (The only other book that’s made me laugh this much is “Bridget Jones’ Diary” by Helen Fielding.) The book also gets under your skin, enough that I feel genuinely giddy at Francesca’s realizations about certain boys. It makes me remember how… interesting crushes are. Most importantly, the book reads as real, because Francesca is wrestling with the fallibility of people. But not too deeply, because life is distracting.
As much as teen fiction is eschewed in literature circles the way teenage girls are by the “older and wiser,” I wonder if the genre’s simpler language is robbed of credit it deserves. The teenage years are often inarticulate and insane, but for some reason we forget just how much once they’re behind us. So it’s a huge feat for an older author beyond those years to be able to return to them, and create coherence where their subjects themselves cannot. This might be partly why so-called teeny-bopper love songs sound like truth to so many: they convey emotions with a directness that complex poetry and allegory do not. And we, people, kids, teenagers, all just want to be validated. We still want reassurance that what we’re feeling is normal.
It might be far from now, but I hope that if/when I have my own kids I can understand what they’re going through. I hope I retain enough memory of youth to relate to them.
“It’s hard to be a person,” as my housemate Melanie says. I think I agree.
* A call to my friends: tell me your favorite book so I can read it!