I've always been the last to grow up. I was the last of my friends to stop playing with Barbie dolls (which I kept hidden in a trunk in my closet until the eighth grade), the last to shutter my Victorian dollhouse (which I still refuse to let my parents get rid of despite the fact that it has taken over the better part of their living room) and the last one of my friends to have her first kiss. In middle school, I felt like there was something seriously wrong with me that could account for why I seemed to be developing (both socially and physically) at such a slow rate compared to my peers.
I feel like one of the really hard things about being in sixth, seventh and eighth grade is the vast divide in maturity within the same classroom; that gaping disparity isn't as pronounced at any other moment of your life. Some people are smoking cigarettes behind the bleachers and others are playing dress up and wouldn't know what to do with a cigarette if they were handed one, already lit. Or at least I didn't. When I compared myself to these classmates, generally known at the time as "the cool kids," I felt babyish, I felt shy and I felt utterly awkward. I was lucky that I had a small group of neighborhood friends who I could reveal my true self to: riding bikes and refusing to grow up like Peter Pan's Lost Boys, all the while pretending I had a boyfriend on my swim from another town to the rest of the class.
I get asked a lot how I manage to write in such a genuine-sounding 12-year-old voice, and I always say that it's surprising how easy it is. How close to the surface that time in my life still feels. Today, I want my books to be a refuge for the next generation of girls. My protagonist Louise's best friend Brooke gets a boyfriend, while Louise is running away down the hallway from the one boy who asks her out. Guess where that scene came from? (Sorry Danny!) But you know what, as it turns out, I'm glad it took me so long to mature. At 34, I already feel like I've been dating my whole life. At 11, if you're lucky, you don't realize how long life is. How long you get to be an adult. How quickly childhood, which at the time seems interminable, becomes a memory. A really sweet dream.
It makes me sad, and angry, to see the provocative clothing that is being marketed to tweens today, which tempts them to try on the costumes of adulthood way before most of them are ready. For example, take Victoria's Secret's younger line, PINK, with spring break-themed ads and underwear that reads, "call me" or "feeling lucky." I feel a fiercely protective need to protect these girls, my readers, myself at that age. I want my books to be a safe place that is honest and true to what it feels like to be not quite still a kid and not quite yet a teen, a magical world where you can be yourself, even though what that is may be changing every second. Where you can get lost in the innocent fantasies of your brain without the self-consciousness that comes with the rest of being in junior high.
Of course there's room and a need and an audience for edgier and darker YA, but that's not my books or my readers. I'm okay with that. It's just not who I am. To this day, I still try to prolong those first few weeks of dating. Holding hands. Kissing sweetly on a street corner. Because what I've learned is that you never get that part back. And you have your whole life to be an adult.
Bianca Turetsky is the author of the Time-Traveling Fashionista Series, which has been translated into nine languages.