Dear Amber Dawn,
Amber wore overalls. She’d like to forget but there’s permanent proof.
You’re fourteen and you’re in a new country again. But this time, it’s your native country and although you’re supposed to feel at home, you feel utterly, completely, foreign. You don’t know which group you belong with at school, and that’s fine because the truth is, you belong with all of them and none. You’re different enough having lived half your life outside the States, so you don’t have to do anything to be unique. You just are.
That’s a good thing, believe it or not. Especially when you’re sixteen and there’s a stupid fad to dress up like a sexy baby doll.
This is what I want to get across: the world is real, and real means gritty, soft, hopeful and hopeless. It’s full of love and mistakes and regret, and you’ll discover that you manage to make incredibly huge mistakes over and over again, but each time—this is key—you pick yourself up. You dust yourself off. And then you do your best to take care of the collateral damage. You’re not exactly an angel, but you’re not a demon. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Amber Lough
Dear Teen Me,
I know this is my third letter to you so it’s like, what now? You’re seventeen and it’s getting a bit tiresome being beat over the head with advice regarding academics and religion by your older self. But today I come in the name of peace. Not just peace, but love. Because love is what I want to talk to you about. More specifically, the romantic kind of love. You want to believe in a forever love as the only true love. You want to believe that the L-word you spoke to someone (or someones) in the past couldn’t possibly have been real—it was child’s play. You want to believe that the love you’re currently absorbed in is the real deal. That it isn’t going to end, despite stats about high school relationships and how often those couples return to their ten or even five year reunion together. You want to be the one (or two, actually) who prove everyone wrong.
I’m not going to tell you the outcome of your current love interest. Sorry if that seems harsh, but I need you to understand something very important and giving that answer will distract you. What you need to do is stop worrying about proving anyone wrong. Stop worrying about defying odds. This isn’t the Olympics. A relationship isn’t something you want to persevere through for the sake of perseverance. Turn off the white noise around you and focus only on how you feel and what your heart is telling you to do. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Julie Cross (WHATEVER LIFE THROWS AT YOU, TEMPEST)
Vicki’s favorite senior picture!
Dear 9th Grade Vicki,
Earlier this week, Dad made a comment about how we always surrounded ourselves with “geniuses” in high school. It’s true—the majority of our closest friends were in honors classes. And then I made the joke, “Yeah. Who knows what went wrong? Maybe I was just the stupid one to keep them grounded.”
Teen Vicki, I’m writing to you now from October 2014 to implore you not just to surround yourself with smart people but to let yourself become one. You have potential that you hide because you’re afraid of being uncool. You’re so insecure in your own skin that you’d rather pretend to be a “tough chick” and seek out the next boy to call you pretty. You need to realize how strong, beautiful, and intelligent you already are.
You’ve gone through a lot in the nine years following graduation, and not all of it was good. Instead of graduating strong, following your dreams, and living life to the fullest, you let our lack of confidence get the best of you. You let boys walk all over you, and during college, you were more worried about losing a boyfriend than a lifelong dream. Yes, that boyfriend did become your husband, but only one week into your marriage, that husband strayed—and three years later became your ex. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Vicki Leigh (CATCH ME WHEN I FALL)
Dear 15-year-old Me,
Caroline with her date Paolo at the prom.
Right now, you’re a sophomore in high school. You have a mouth full of braces, a big pile of homework, and a deep love for all things Abercrombie & Fitch. Actually, I bet you’re wearing your favorite A&F sweatpants right now while you’re sitting on the blue carpet in your bedroom, trying to draft a paper for English Lit—but let’s face it. You’re not thinking about Death of a Salesman and how it relates to the American dream.
You’re thinking about boys instead.
You’re thinking about boyfriends in particular.
You think a lot about kissing.
You’ve never been kissed before—which is why you think about it so much—and you’re secretly hoping that you’ll get your first kiss this year. You spend hours wondering what it will feel like, pressing your lips against a boy’s mouth. You blush when you think about your tongues touching. Wouldn’t that be, um, squishy? Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Caroline Tung Richmond (THE ONLY THING TO FEAR)
Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Sarah,
Sarah playing guitar, age fifteen.
The hole in your father’s chest is big enough to fit both your fists inside. It’s okay, Sarah, you tell yourself as you clean and pack the wound from his heart surgery. Even now, when I’m writing this to you at age thirty-four, the smell of betadine makes you violently ill. You can see Dad’s sternum held together with wire.
Your friends are freaked out and stay away. Yours is the house where your friends land when shit gets bad. If they get kicked out, they know to come to you. But where can you go? None of them has had a dying man in their house, but you do. You’re used it. He’s been dying for three years already.
You’re a junior in high school and mad. Your sister Ericka’s off in college in Chicago while Mom’s already told you that you’ll attend the junior college in town. Never mind that you’ll be offered full scholarships to both of your dream colleges elsewhere. You must take care of Dad. There’s no arguing, which is how it always is with Mom.
Your godfather and his roommate move into the basement. They are alcoholics. You don’t feel safe with them in the house. Not with the things they say about you when they wander upstairs, hammered, while Mom’s away at one of her three jobs and Dad’s sick in the bedroom. They leer at you, talk about whether you’re a virgin since you have big breasts, offer you a drink. You never tell anyone. Because you’re embarrassed. Because your godfather is Mom’s friend. Because you were raised to believe you helped people who couldn’t be on their own feet. But they feel very, very wrong to you. So you make dinner for you and Dad, and you keep a sharp knife at hand, and when you go to the basement to take care of laundry, that knife is hidden in the clothesbasket. Just in case. It’s okay, Sarah. They get themselves kicked out of your home. Good riddance, even if they pop up like Whack-a-Moles for the next few years. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sarah Bromley (A MURDER OF MAGPIES)
Krystal Wade during her high school drill team days in 1996.
I know you’re in pain. I know the world around you seems cruel and heartless. In many ways, it is, but you have to be stronger than the world, you have to be bigger than the world. Many horrific things happened to you, and you have reacted horribly.
You’ve pushed away your friends and family. You’ve allowed your schoolwork to suffer. You view yourself as unworthy of friends, unworthy of love, unworthy of any relationship remotely healthy.
But you’re wrong. Go figure.
You are so much more than you give yourself credit for. Fear rules you now, but it won’t later. Soon, you’re going to come to terms with what that man did to you. Soon, you’re going to come to terms with how your parents reacted, with their fear, with their hurt. Soon, you’re going to realize the past doesn’t matter, that the present and future are the only things you should concern yourself with. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Krystal Wade (CHARMING, WILDE’S FIRE)
Dear Teen Me:
Teen Bridget, holding her brother.
What would I tell you now? Well, just like A.S. King, I’ve rewritten this letter twice, so let’s cut to the chase: everything will turn out okay. Really. You have to trust me on this. You are not dumb and you aren’t to blame for your brother’s death! Not the one in this picture, because as far as you know there are no pictures of Michael anymore. That’s Mom’s secret.
Eventually, you’ll retire the burdensome role as the perfect oldest child, chief caretaker, de-facto parent, family hero, though it will take a while, but your love of books and basketball will help. In fact, you’ll discover a huge world out there beyond the soulless suburbs that you hate.
“You could never do anything. You always had to babysit!” Your sort-of high school friends will say years later. But the truth was bigger than they knew—way bigger—your job was light years beyond babysitting, your job was to keep your siblings alive, because safe wasn’t always an option.
And dead was what Michael was.
Yes, it sucked that you spent such a huge-ass chunk of your life blaming yourself for Michael’s death, but years later, a friend, a cop, will dig up the Accident Reports—and you will know—what you always knew.
There was no credible evidence to prove that Mr. P’s car hit Michael. He died of head and internal injuries. No mention of your mother. None.
So many secrets. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Bridget Birdsall (DOUBLE EXPOSURE, ORDINARY ANGELS)
Dear Teen Me,
Andrea looking thrilled to be at prom with this guy, who still married her five years later.
Right now, you’re wishing that you were one of those other girls. You know, the one with the honey-colored hair that you tried (and failed) to emulate with washed-out highlights. You wish that your mom was cool enough to let you take bottles from her liquor cabinet, like that one girl’s mom, and you’re lusting after that other girl’s Abercrombietastic wardrobe. You want the easy popularity of the girl with the deep dimples, and the boldness of the girl with the freckles scattered across her nose, and the belly button piercing of pretty much every other girl in your grade.
You’re wishing and wanting and praying for all of the things that you aren’t, and if I’m being totally honest, you’ll never be.
You don’t know this yet, but one day you’ll be glad you never got those things, that you never were those things. That you’re more of who you really are at this point in your life than you ever thought possible because of what you didn’t end up getting than because of what you have. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Andrea Hannah (OF SCARS AND STARDUST)
Dear Jennifer at 16,
Teen Jennifer, 10th grade!
You are weird.
I know. I know. You don’t want to hear this. You want desperately to be normal. Average. To fit in.
But here is the truth, my dear. It’s 1993, you’re 16 years old, and one of your favorite movies in the world is the 1956 black and white film The Bad Seed about an eight-year-old sociopath named Rhoda. I know you find the movie to be the perfect mix of camp and creepy, but when you screen it for your friends at slumber parties, they don’t quite get it.
With the exception of a heavy duty love affair with NKOTB in junior high, you have very little interest in popular music and spend your afternoons doing homework while listening to the “oldies” station, hoping someone calls in to request “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells because it’s your favorite. You make shoebox dioramas and write personal essays about what River Phoenix’s death means to you and then you read these essays out loud to your reflection in the mirror on the back of your bedroom door.
You do these things for fun.
You don’t understand popular fashion or makeup or hair even though you try – you really, really try. But you get so frustrated trying to look “right” (read “normal”), that your mother eventually asks your sweet and effortlessly normal best friend to take you shopping at Hit or Miss because every time you go shopping for clothes with your mom you end up having a breakdown. Nothing looks right or seems right on you. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Jennifer Mathieu (THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, DEVOTED)
Dear Teen Me,
Sarah’s 8th grade school portrait.
Welcome to high school. It’s going to suck. And not in the “my hair won’t do what I want” kind of way, though you will have plenty of those days!
When you walk into Algebra class freshman year, take a look in the back corner at the twins with hair teased up at least seven inches. They will torment you, threaten you, invade the places of your world you thought we safe. They will also move away before the end of the year. So make the truce so you can go on the field trip without being afraid of getting beat up, but don’t smile at them in an effort to size of the chance for a permanent peace. They don’t like you. They never will. But they will make you stronger.
Sophomore year won’t be too bad. New school, new traditions and no reason to look over your shoulder. A word of advice though: You know that permanent sub in Spanish? The one who taught you how to order beer and showed The Karate Kid in Spanish? Yeah… don’t have high expectations for Spanish II. And don’t pick Mecedes as your Spanish name. The teacher will veto it and dub you Susanna, which you will hate. Study any Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sarah J. Schmitt (IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH)