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'Dear Teen Me': Young Adult Authors Write Letters To Their Teenage Selves

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dear teen me

Legendary writer Joan Didion once said, "Was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was.”

That's exactly the goal of "Dear Teen Me," an anthology arriving on shelves this October, edited by by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally. The book, as well as the blog it's based on, contains a series of letters written by published young adult authors to their high school selves. The letters pinpoint formative moments in every teen's life, from first kisses, to bullying, to friendship, to figuring out who they are -- in short, every "we've all been there" moment.

In the following excerpt, author E. Kristin Anderson writes a letter to herself as a teenager, reflecting on her obsession with her high school crush:

Dear Teen Me,

We spend most mornings writing in our diary. Not the fun diary that you share with friends. Not the one where you draw pictures of Hanson and Foo Fighters and analyze the Grammys. I’m talking about the one where you write about how scared you are that we’ll never find THE ONE, and about how fighting with your mom is wearing you out, and how you’re grossed out by sex, and how desperately, how insanely you want to date John O’Bleary.

You barely know John O’Bleary. He transferred to your school during sophomore year, and now he’s the goalie for the hockey team. The team your brother plays for. The team your dad coaches. And, yes, your dad actually told his players that if they tried to date you they’d be sitting on the bench, indefinitely.

But Dad would have made an exception for John. He’s different from the other hockey guys. And sometimes he and Dad talk about you on the team bus. So now you’re convinced that you and John O’Bleary are going to ride off into the sunset in whatever car he drives (like I said, you barely know him) and get married and have adorable O’Bleary babies.

So just about every entry in your journal is about John O’Bleary. I mean, you’re probably writing about him right now, as the sun finishes coming up. I bet there’s a cup of Raspberry Zinger herbal tea cooling on your nightstand next to a half-eaten bagel slathered in cream cheese. You have a whole routine: wake up, shower, make breakfast, crawl back into bed (with your breakfast), and write in your diary. Don’t even try to deny it. You’re about to start another entry about how today is the day you’re going to talk to John.

In fact, there are eleventy billion entries of pure O’Bleary pining. I could transcribe a page word for word, but I’d hate to betray your confidence. After all, we swore to ourselves we would never share THAT journal with anyone; we fear the damage its publication could wreak upon our impending fame. (We don’t want our adoring public to know that we’re so shallow we only ever write about boys.) Anyway, that’s what the other journal’s for: sharing fun stuff with friends and illustrating, on a frame-by-frame basis, our delusions of grandeur.

You have a bedtime diary ritual, too. At night you crawl under the covers, pull out one of your metallic Gelly Roll pens, and woefully scribble into the same pages that you filled with hope that very morning. It goes like this:

I didn’t talk to John today. [Insert explanation here.] I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just know that there’s something between us. There’s a reason he transferred into school when he did. And he told Dad [insert anecdote here]. Why can’t I just talk to him? I’m going to regret it if I don’t. This shouldn’t be so hard. But it is. Tomorrow I’m going to talk to John O’Bleary.

And so it goes, time and time again... Until: You know that dance that’s coming up? The Sadie Hawkins dance, where girls are supposed to ask the boys? (As if you haven’t asked your date to every other dance, you inadvertent feminist, you.) Well, you’re going to go up to John and ask him to go to the dance with you. Flat out. And he’s going to say that someone else just asked him -- it’s a girl you’re kind of friends with, and one of the only popular girls who’s never picked on you. So you can’t even hate her. Worse still, John is so freaking nice that he asks you to save him a dance.

You never do get that dance. But here’s the thing: you weren’t supposed to.

I was home for Christmas in 2010, sitting on the sofa at Nini’s house (yes, we still call our grandmother Nini), when she announced that John O’Bleary was marrying that very same girl who asked him to the dance not half an hour before you did. And in that moment, I couldn’t help wondering what it would have been like to be Mrs. O’Bleary. Teen Me, don’t let this crush you. As I write this today, I can’t help but feel lucky that I’m not Mrs. O’Bleary. I’m in love right now with someone else entirely, hundreds of miles from chez O’Bleary.

But even knowing that, I still want you to ask John to that dance. You wrote in your secret journal that you don’t want to be thirty and look back with regrets. You were sure that if you didn’t ask John out, you would always wonder, “What if?” I’m almost thirty now, and thanks to you, I have no what-ifs. So, asking John out? Yeah, I think we can say with certainty that it was a good idea. (Even though the journal entry from that evening says something like: Well, stamp an R on my forehead and throw me in the Reject bin!)

You’re not a reject, Teen Me. You’re brave. When you think back on that moment later on, you’ll feel pride, more than anything else: pride, because you’re the kind of girl who has the cojones to ask for what she wants.

Asking John O’Bleary to the Sadie Hawkins dance was about so much more than getting rejected by the boy of your dreams; it was about setting the pace for the rest of your life. You already believe in something Faith will say on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Want, take, have!” And while you’re not going to use this for evil quite the way she did, you’re going to wear your heart on your sleeve and pursue impossible goals and take inadvisable risks, Because it’s the only way you know how to be you.

But I think you’ve already got a sense of this -- even on bad days, when you feel like you have eighty R’s on your forehead) like the day when you realize that, whoa, there’s no cure for bipolar disorder; or all the times when you want to hide until school, and your parents, and the mean girls disappear). Pretty soon you’re going to realize that “It works if you work it” is more than a Taylor Hawkins quote (from that new magazine Nylon). “It works if you work it” are words to live by, and you’re already on top of it. So don’t change a damn thing.

Excerpted from "Dear Teen Me," edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally. Published by Zest Books.

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