Dear Teen Jessie,
It’s late afternoon on a warm fall day, the sky purpling with twilight, and you’re waiting for the el train at the Halsted blue line stop. Your backpack contains an algebra book, a physics book, and a history book, each of them as heavy and dense as a brick. Over your shoulder is slung your volleyball bag, which contains the new Mizuno volleyball shoes that you insisted your mom buy for you, thinking that maybe if you had all the right gear, people wouldn’t notice that you’re the worst player on the team. The el platform is filling up with the rush hour crowd, but you’re alone—more alone, in fact, than you’ve ever been.
When you found out that you’d made the team, you were thrilled—Saint Ignatius volleyball was a big deal, and the vast majority of girls who’d tried out hadn’t made the cut. You felt like this was a good omen to start high school, and you were proud, too, to be one of only two north siders on the team. Down on the south side of Chicago, volleyball is practically a religion, and those girls had grown up playing for travelling clubs; you’d picked up the sport in sixth grade, casually, when your grammar school organized a team. By eighth grade you were the best player in your class, and led your team to a third place win in the Northwest Side Catholic League tournament.
But at Ignatius, you knew you weren’t going to be a starter. You expected to be a second string player. But what you hadn’t expected was that you would be totally, scarily, out of your league. And that isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that you’ve had all these chances to connect with your new teammates—bus rides, weekend tournaments, brutal Saturday morning practices—and the connection isn’t happening. It’s not them, either. It’s you. With one notable exception, the girls are all nice and friendly, but there’s something tight inside of you, and you don’t know what it is, that makes you hold yourself apart. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Jessie Ann Froley (THE CARNIVAL AT BRAY)
Dear Teen Me (er, Younger Teen Me),
Hey, man. I don’t think you’ll believe me, but this is a letter from your 18-year-old self. It’s totally fine that you don’t think this is legit, I mean, I didn’t believe in time-traveling postage when I was your age either. But UPS has seriously stepped up their game in the last five years. (That’s a joke.) Anyway, I’m choosing to send this letter to you at age 13 because I think that’s when I would have most appreciated it.
You’re just about to attend a new school called Seacrest and you’re a pretty angst-y little dude. And I’m going to be 100% honest with you; you’ve been a little bit of a pain in the ass during your first two middle school years. I don’t blame you for that, or regret it, because that’s what it took to survive in the hellhole you’ve just escaped. This new place, however, is different. So it’s time to start letting people in, and stop being so defensive. It’s a wonderful place, and these kids aren’t out to get you. In the interest of helping you through the next five years of your life, I have a little bit of advice for you. Advice that you should follow very closely, because I can guarantee you that no one else could possibly have better foresight. (Or I guess since we’re me it’s hindsight. This is odd.) Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Kyle Prue (THE SPARKS)
Dear Teen Me:
A portrait of the author as a high school graduate. Despite being valedictorian, he had no clue at the time what he was going to do next.
Wait a minute, hang on. That wasn’t a threat; you’re not being chased by zombies. If you’re around thirteen, it’s been three years since you realized (well, since you were told, really) that you were out of shape and you went through your first awful run with your dad. Remember that? You thought you were going to die or that your dad was trying to kill you by making you keep going. Surprise! You didn’t die. It’ll be another two years before you wake up one morning and, for reasons you’re not sure of, put on your tennis shoes and go running around the neighborhood at five-thirty when it’s still dark.
I hate to admit it, but you were a little pudgy back then. It’s okay, a lot of that was baby fat, and you probably noticed that most of it vanished between seventh and eighth grades. I’ll tell you a secret, one that’ll probably make you feel better but it really shouldn’t: your dad is going to battle his weight for most of his older adulthood. So’s your brother. You’re going to be the fittest member of the family. That may not be saying much, but you’re going to run a marathon when you’re 32, and you’re going to run four half-marathons after that, even after you herniate a disc in your back and it hurts so bad that you can’t get out of bed.
That reminds me: that shrub in the front yard of the house you’ll own when you’re 33? You’re going to pull it out with your bare hands. That’s probably not a good idea. Tie it to the hitch on the back of the truck. Actually, you’re not going to do that either, because you’re stubborn. Just be more careful, is what I’m saying. (Yes, you’re going to own a pickup truck. Try not to look so shocked.) Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Jeffrey Ricker (THE UNWANTED, DETOURS)
Dear 15 year-old me,
Liz at 16, photographed by her future husband, though she didn’t know it at the time.
I heard what he said on the phone just now. And you didn’t quite make it off the line before you started crying, but it was a good effort, so congratulations on that. But, no, you didn’t make it into the choir so…what’s the opposite of congratulations? Consolations, I guess.
You’re not very good at failing, are you?
You’ve never really had to learn much about it before this year, because things have come pretty easily to you so far, Miss Thing. But my oh my this freshman year of yours has been an education in failure hasn’t it? Oh don’t get me wrong, you’re still getting by just fine in school. But it’s not automatic anymore is it?
You came into high school with a best friend who moved on to other friends before you did. You missed auditions for the fall play because of a death in the family and no one was willing to give you another chance. Because sometimes that’s the way the world works. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Liz Czukas (ASK AGAIN LATER, TOP TEN CLUES YOURE CLUELESS)
Dear Teen Me,
Sarah with crazy bangs, approximately age 14.
Please take notes. And not the kind of half-asleep, half-daydreaming notes you’re prone to taking in Calculus. (You know the ones that sort of slant across the page? Because you’re half asleep? Yeah, those.)
You need Real Notes that show you are Paying Attention. Because this is important.
If a boyfriend tells you he has NEVER EVER cheated on a girlfriend more than ten times, he’s LYING. Ever heard the expression, he “who doth protest too much…”? Well, it means the opposite is true! Shakespeare knew what he was talking about!
Don’t overthink your first kiss too much. Don’t worry. Just keep your eyes closed and it’ll happen. If you sneak a peek, you’ll panic and turn your head. Keep ‘em closed, baby!
That guy who dumps you? So he can date a friend of yours? He’s SO not worth it in the first place. (And neither is she, it turns out.) So don’t count your tears, count your blessings.
Sarah pretending she knows how to ski, approximately age 15.
Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sarah Lynn Scheerger (THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE)
Dear Teen Bobby,
Bobby, aged 16, drummer from the totally radical ska band “Caffeinated Superheroes.”
You are so, so skinny and you think you’re a whale and it kind of makes me want to choke you. I mean, I won’t, because that might cause a time paradox or whatever which could blow up the universe. Which is not what I’m going for. Obviously.
When I look back, I see the differences as sharply as the (many) similarities. From the bottom of my heart, let me tell you this: at our core, in the deep soulstuff, we’re exactly the same. We still make silly faces and say funny things, we still embarrass ourselves in front of the opposite sex (and the same sex) and we still love recklessly and without reservation. We’re still epic procrastinators – you had about two months to write this letter and you’re finishing it the night before it’s due. Sound familiar? Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author B.C. Johnson (DEADGIRL)
Dear Teen Me,
This is not going to be a pity party.
You may feel sorry for yourself, but at least be happy there was no Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter/Instagram in the 70’s. There will never be more evidence of your biggest blunders than a couple of random Polaroids stuffed into a drawer—and they’re mostly stuck together.
Truth is, you’re privileged. You get every great part you try out for. You go away every summer. When you’re mad about the world or politics or civil rights? There are people that listen. And that is not all. You’ve also lived in England twice, for many months at a time. You have ridden on a motorcycle/been to a ton of great concerts/stayed out all night. You shook Ted Kennedy’s hand. You saw Yul Brynner play the king of Siam from the third row in the orchestra section.
You should be happy.
But you aren’t. You feel excluded. Alone. Misunderstood. Sometimes angry. Mostly, you just want someone to talk to . . . with honesty. You fight for it every day—friendship—but it always feels just out of reach.
Mostly, you blame the nose. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sarah Aronson (BELIEVE, BEYOND LUCKY)
Teen Lorie and friends in high school!
Dear Teen Me,
Have you ever noticed there are no do-overs in life?
I’m only pointing this out with the hope that when you look back on your high school years your regrets will not be as vast as mine have been. Perhaps my mistakes were not on the level of “Friend A,” who chose to date and then marry the sorta cute boy with caterpillar eyebrows over the blonde Adonis with the melting British accent. Or “Friend B” who permed her hair one too many times and it began to fall out (Yikes!) But what may seem funny now will become regrets that will haunt you.
All I want you to know is—stop being so afraid! Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Lorie Langdon (DOON, DESTINED FOR DOON)
Dear Teen Me:
Shonna at her Sweet Sixteen party with friends she’s had since Kindergarten (in the days before Cake Boss).
“WHEREVER you are—be all there.” –Jim Elliot
This is a quote that you won’t hear until you are in your early twenties. It’s a great quote, and one you’ll wish you’d heard earlier.
You live in a small town. You go to a small school. And your life feels even smaller.
I know you can’t wait to blow this pop stand and move to the big city. You are ready to experience life on your own, independent of the labels and expectations put on you by everyone you’ve known since you were a baby.
Good news! Very soon you are going to move away from your small town. You make it to the big city. And you will love it. You feel free to choose the life you want to live.
At a basketball game, already networking with a friend who will go on to own her own bookshop. (Sorensen books in Victoria, B.C.)
Bad news: When you come home to visit, you are going to see with fresh eyes what a great place you used to live in. (Think mountain air, clean water, lakes, huckleberries, four seasons, safe streets, beautiful river valley, and friends that live so close they are only minutes away when you need them.)
You are going to wish you paid more attention. That you wrote more in your journal about the people, the place, the feelings. (Fascinating mining-town history, friends who remember how your mom used to call you home by clanging a big ‘ol bell, the best tasting spaghetti around, and annual festivals that cement your feelings of community and place.)
You’ll wish you had taken advantage of all the opportunities you had, but let go. You are going to regret not fully living in this place.
Shonna working at the clothing store where they let her design a few windows. (Inspiration for the window design scenes in Cinderella’s Dress.)
“Wherever you are—BE all there.”
This quote comes from Jim Elliot. He was a missionary who was killed by members of the Aucas, a remote tribe in Ecuador. He died young. But based on his own advice, do you think he knew the importance of living a full life? Do you think he lived every moment?
You spend too much of your time looking toward the future and not living in the present. Open your eyes. BE there. Experience your life.
Don’t miss the opportunities in front of you because you are too busy looking somewhere else, wishing that your life could be different. Live your life. All of it. The way it is now.
“Wherever you are—be ALL THERE.”
A youth pastor is going to quote you this line one day because he notices you are only putting in half effort while you wait to move on to “bigger and better” things. What’s ironic is that this youth pastor is also going to die young, just like Jim Elliot. They both died young, but they both lived fully. They both had a great impact on the lives of others.
Participate fully. Don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid.
P.S. Grow out your bangs. They will never behave the way you want them to.
P.P.S. Also, get the braces. Please, I’m begging you. You’ll save yourself a whole lot of teeth trouble when you are older.
Entangled Teen, June 2014.
SHONNA SLAYTON is the author of the YA novel CINDERELLA’S DRESS published with Entangled Teen. She finds inspiration in reading vintage diaries written by teens, who despite using different slang, sound a lot like teenagers today. While writing Cinderella’s Dress she reflected on her days as a high-school senior in British Columbia when she convinced her supervisors at a sportswear store to let her design a few windows—it was glorious fun while it lasted. When not writing, Shonna enjoys amaretto lattes and spending time with her husband and children in Arizona.
For more about Shonna and her work check out her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.
Dear Teen Beth,
I’ve been putting this off. Not because I don’t care, or because I am quite possibly the biggest procrastinator in the history of procrastinators (a fact you already know). I’ve been avoiding this letter because I know where you are right now and what still lies ahead, and though some of it is nice—beautiful even—a lot of it just isn’t.
If I close my eyes, I can see you. It’s 1996 and you’re in your favorite pair of hip-hugger jeans and your grunge-worthy flannel shirt. Tori Amos blares in your headphones as you sit on the carpeted floor of your foster parent’s living room, feverishly working on that drawing you hope will get you into MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art).
You cling to MICA desperately, now. It’s all you have. It’s your lifeboat. You resolved to never end up like your mother, who has trouble keeping a job and paying her bills. At fifteen, she kicked you out because she didn’t believe you when you told her you didn’t have any money to help pay the rent. Shortly after the door hit your butt, she was evicted from that apartment. That was two years ago, and at seventeen, you still have no idea where she and your little sister are living.
No. You know you will not be like that. You will be better. You will make your life better. MICA embodies that hope for you now. You don’t think you’re smart enough to get into a “real” college, and you can’t afford one on your own anyway. But you have artistic talent, and you might qualify for some feel-sorry-for-that-poor-foster-kid scholarship, if you get your grades up and your portfolio is stellar. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Elizabeth Holloway (CALL ME GRIM)