the darkness of teenagerdom.

| Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Today's Tune: Silver Lining

If you're on Twitter, you should absolutely post 130-character Halloween microfiction along with the hashtag #hallowfic. Do it do it do it. I WILL MAKE THIS A THING.


"Isn't this too deep for teenagers?"

"Wow, that's dark. I don't know if teens are this dark."

"This makes me think a lot. I don't think teens want to think this much."

"I thought YA literature was supposed to be, you know, light. Easy to read."

Do any of these questions or statements sound familiar to you? They've become very familiar to me over the past year.

Granted, my writing edges toward the dark and heavy (murder, depression, drug use, pain), so it's not an incredibly surprising reaction. Even so, I've never once sat back and thought, "Hmm, actually, this is TOO rough for my audience." I'm very mindful of the variety of teen experience, and very often draw on my own teenage years for the scenes I write.

And here's the thing: I wasn't an especially unhappy youth. Outwardly, I was well-off and well-adjusted. Just your average kid - nothing too horrifying in my past, relatively naive/"innocent," decent high school experience. Very little that would indicate that in reality I was a storm of emotion.

My life certainly wasn't the image of suffering, but no more was it a rosy sunrise. I was a quiet introvert who choked back feelings of rejection, hurt, rage, and terror. I am absolutely positive I wasn't alone, though I often felt that way.

I found escape by finding the darkness inside my mind and heart reflected on the pages of books. No, my parents weren't dead and no one wanted to murder my friends. But darkness in YA isn't about reality - it's about having an outlet for the stormy feelings of being a teenager.

Since I've been showing my work, I've had the strange experience of people telling me they had no idea such darkness could come out of me. On the outside, I'm an optimistic, bright-color-wearing, happy-go-lucky blond. That's who I am, but only in part. There's also a part of me I often keep locked away, where I hide all my wounds, all my pain, all my suffering - a lot of it from my teen years. And that place is somehow always accessed when I write.

Maybe it's subconscious self-therapy. Maybe it's just what makes most sense to me when I write for teens - I'm writing to my own teenage self. I'm not sure. But what I am sure of is that I'm writing for teens, and there are teens out there who understand where I'm coming from.

Even though I've come to expect it now, I'm always surprised when I come across people who seem to think teenagers aren't deep, dark, or pained. That they don't want to think. I'm not sure if their teen years really were a breeze, or if they can't remember that adolescence really kind of sucks. Everything hurts, physically and emotionally. Overthinking is par for the course.

Sure, as adults, we can look back and see exactly how we overreacted, or how that thing we thought would be the end of the world was really no big deal. And it's easy to write off present-day teenagers as silly, frothy and melodramatic.

But it is not so. Those feelings aren't any less real now than they were then. When my high school crush rejected me? I was destroyed. When my parents divorced? Gutted. When my best friend got new friends and left me behind? The pain was so cutting I could barely breathe. I'd react differently now, but it's only because my skin's gotten tougher. Every time something similar happens in my adult life, some small part of my mind remembers. I shut it away immediately, but I remember.

"Teenager" is not some overreaching umbrella term. Teenagers are as varied as adults. Some are shallow, some are deep. Their literature should be as varied and complex as they are. Mine just happens to reflect their darkness alongside their light.

Because that's me - light cutting through dark, reminding me of the way. And everything I went through to get here.


{ Lisa Potts } at: October 20, 2010 at 8:55 AM said...

Steph, I love this post. Like you I had the typical teenage experience - divorced parents, boy troubles, friend issues, but I was still an emotional wreck.

Everything is closer to the surface for teens. As the mother of one, I can verify this 100%.

Everyone has a dark side and I thank the stars every day that I get to write about it.

{ Matthew Rush } at: October 20, 2010 at 9:00 AM said...

Teenagers are smart as hell and see through bullshit just as fast as adults anyway - if not faster. I think you're right to write whatever you choose to write.

{ eeleenlee } at: October 20, 2010 at 9:16 AM said...

Nothing is too dark for teens these days- just look at the world that they'll inherit...

{ j.leigh.bailey } at: October 20, 2010 at 9:25 AM said...

"But darkness in YA isn't about reality - it's about having an outlet for the stormy feelings of being a teenager." This is so true. I know books (some dark, some fun) helped me through a fairly typical (actually, you're summary above is about a mirror image of my experiences) teenage life. They said what I maybe couldn't put to words, and sometimes just provided an escape.

{ Magan } at: October 20, 2010 at 9:26 AM said...

I remember reading about this in a #yalitchat about the lightheartedness of teenage writing. Sure you do get some books that are just fun reads like A MATCH MADE IN HIGH SCHOOL, but I think that most teenagers (and even people my age) do want to explore the what if's and to have those escapes. Sometimes I like a good paranormal and I think we all need that escape.

{ Cinette } at: October 20, 2010 at 9:44 AM said...

I don't think anyone made it through their teen years unscathed. Like you said, everything is so close to the surface. Everything is new. All that hormone crap doesn't help either. And let's not forget, the teenage brain isn't even fully developed in the areas of reasoning; they are ruled by their emotions. As adults, we see it as over-reaction. But to them (as it was for us) it's the only way they have of dealing.

{ Elena Solodow } at: October 20, 2010 at 9:56 AM said...

I get that all the time! "God, Elena, I didn't know you were so DARK."

It's true that it's easy to forget that everything as a teenager is a FIRST. It's new & exciting & devastating. That's why I love the YA genre. Adults can talk all they want about how the writing should be - what we should suggest to the teens, as authors - but the truth is, you have to go with the emotion that a teenager would feel at that time in their life, not write from the perspective of an adult imparting life lessons learned.

{ Elana Johnson } at: October 20, 2010 at 10:09 AM said...

Oh, writing is definitely self-therapy for me. And I do think some teenagers are capable of handling the dark. So soldier on!

{ aspiring_x } at: October 20, 2010 at 10:30 AM said...

yikes! i haven't heard that kind of talk about teenagers! i thought (for the vast majority of them/ us in the past) the teenage years were dark in general. emotional turmoil, newfound abstract thinking, the search for autonomy, etc. not to mention the drugs, sex, and violence that pervades teen years as they search for who they are, what they believe in, what they want to devote their lives to.
i definitely agree with you that there is a need for dark literature in YA. but also, the light should have a place too.

{ Old Kitty } at: October 20, 2010 at 12:09 PM said...

When I think back to how I was as a young woman before I was 20, I was definitely darker, edgier, felt things more profoundly, was moody as hell and was as dangerous and shattered as broken glass! Yikes!! But I also was more adventurous, more light-hearted, and daring!

So I'm all for darker complex YA lit alongside it's opposite!! Great post! Take care

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: October 20, 2010 at 12:40 PM said...

Thank you so much for the responses, everyone! I'm glad I'm not alone here :D

And yes, there's absolutely a place for the light, too, which I realize I didn't touch much on here. But they're both parts of the same coin, and neither is "better" than the other.

{ Kim } at: October 20, 2010 at 9:56 PM said...

I think you nailed it exactly. Being a teenager isn't light and fluffy. I mean, it might have been for someone, but I've never met that person - everyone I've ever talked to who has opened up about their teenage years has talked about all kinds of highs and lows and emotional whiplash and not knowing what to do with it all. And it hurts.
Awersome post!

{ Lola Sharp } at: October 21, 2010 at 6:00 PM said...

Please, my daughter is in high school, we are well off, she's well loved, spoiled, wears designer clothes, has a Mac, she's popular, gorgeous, straight A student in AP classes, happy, smiling...and she loves the dark books and dark, emo music (and so do I).
With her charmed life, she still has hormones and PMS and school pressures, and boy dramas, and worries about her future and other less fortunate people.
Teens are smart, savvy,thoughtful. They don't want dumbed-down literature.
I write for adults but I hate those distinctions...good writing is good writing. A delicious work of fiction is ageless, regardless of genre or themes.

I enjoyed your honest post.


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