Dear Teen Christina,
Life sucks right now, and, I'm not going to lie to you. High school is awful, but at least middle school is over, and, so far, that exists as the nadir of your life, and I hope that does not change (it hasn't yet). Also, in junior year, you'll make a friend, a real one, the kind of friend you'll still talk to when you're unspeakably old (aka 25). Also, teen self, you should know that your fantasies of showing up at your ten year reunion incredibly hot and successful and falling in instalove with [insert one of the innumerable boys you crush on during high school] will not be coming true. Also, instalove is awful. Even in your daydreams, I expect better quality material, okay? Just know, young self, that it will get better.
There's a lot more that I could tell my teen self, because there's a lot that I've learned, even just to the extent of realizing how much I don't know. None of these authors had quite the same experience that I did, but a comment here and an embarrassing moment there spoke to me, just as others would to anyone who picks it up.
Robin Benway wrote one of my favorite letters in the anthology. Her second point begins, "High school stops mattering the second you graduate from it." This is both the truest and least accurate statement in here, I feel, and sort of sums everything up. All of these stories are people coming to terms with their middle school, high school or college experiences. In some stories, you can still feel the vitriol or the sadness, emotions still very close to the surface. These moments have a profound impact on your formation as a person. However, once I graduated from high school, I hardly looked back, and I barely remember a lot of it. The late nights frantically trying to produce a two-week science experiment in three days (you won't get a good grade on that one, self, but you weren't going to anyway) really just won't matter. And, if you don't want to, you won't ever have to see those people again.
At Decatur Book Festival, the moderator of a panel I attended made an observation that no authors of young adult fiction were popular in high school. Well, Dear Teen Me shows that this is not true. In fact, I'd say there's a pretty decent representation of different social cliques in here, although, unsurprisingly, the nerds do predominate. There are some cheerleaders, though, and at least one jock. I liked that, and getting a window into other people's high school experiences has a cathartic feeling to it, because no one had it easy. Growing up hurts.
Dear Teen Me is a brief volume, composed of short snippets, generally two to four pages long. About half of the authors go for silly self-mockery, giving an entertaining account of their teen awkwardness and playing for laughs. Most of the rest focus on a specific issue that will haunt their years, something dark and painful: eating disorders, self-harm, rape, abuse, grief over the loss of a loved one. The honesty of these stories and the bravery of the authors for putting that out there is incredible. A couple stories, sadly, didn't really say anything at all. These I did not approve of.
I whipped through Dear Teen Me in a single evening. For teenagers struggling with feeling at home in their own skin (aka all teenagers) or for those of us who still have some things from our teen years we need to get over, Dear Teen Me is a powerful read to help us feel just a little bit less alone. Also, you can see what all of the authors looked like in high school (in fact, Sean Beaudoin's letter will be all about his emo, artsy photograph), which I love.