As permissive and youth-driven as we’ve become as a society, many of us are still pretty uncomfortable with looking at some of the darker feelings of adolescent girls—desire, aggression, jealousy, rage. They just don’t suit our ideas of girlhood. There’s this tremendous schism between what we want to think about girls, our daughters, and how girls really are
(or how some of us were when we were girls, which maybe we conveniently forget) . And this is ripe terrain to write about because there’s still not legions of “adult” novels that deal with the desires, the ambitions, the anger, the hunger of teenage girls.
But as I began offering up this response to the reporter, something else kept coming into my mind. Maybe it was his persistence. “But why do you want to write about it? Do you wish you were a teenage girl again?” I blurted the answer, “No!” Which is true. Absolutely true. So much of what I write about is how hard it is to be a teenage girl, and how it’s harder now than ever. You feel like all eyes are on you. There’s s much pressure to be a certain way, all while you’re striving to figure out who you are, trying to separate who you think you should be from you who want to be. And now, with social media, that feeling of being on display is virtually round the clock. Who would want that?
And yet, there was something else at root in my reflexive answer. It had been knocking around in my head for days, since I heard a This American Life episode in which Molly Ringwald—my generation’s teen girl icon—discussed watching The Breakfast Club with her ten-year-old daughter. It’s a wonderful and painful segment, filled with revelation. And it reminded me of watching that movie with my parents when I was thirteen or so. At one particularly emotional point, the black-garbed outsider Allison (Ally Sheedy) declares, “When you grow up, your heart dies.”
I think my dad rolled his eyes at that line, and I don’t blame him. But I also loved it. And I still love it. Not because Allison’s right (we all know she’s not), but because the line is SO dead-on true-to-being-a-teenager, and maybe especially (but not exclusively) teenage girls. That feeling that adulthood is about loss and compromises (which, in part, it is) and that you’ll never feel as intensely as you do now. The latter isn’t true either, of course, but isn’t it true that you never again feel things so unmitigatingly, so uncomplicatedly, so simply, so purely? At that age, all your nerves are exposed. You feel everything (even when—especially when—you adopt a pose of cool indifference). And it’s an utterly unobstructed feeling because hard-won lessons haven’t yet dulled or muddled that intensity of experience. We learn to build barricades as we grow older, sure. We learn to protect ourselves. We also see, over and over, how complicated life is, and awareness of those complications serves as a buffer. We’re able to say, when wounded, “That person doesn’t really think I’m ugly/stupid/bad. He has his own problems and he’s taking them out on me.” We’re able to say, after a breakup, “It won’t always hurt like this.” These are the gifts of adulthood.
In the movie, when Ally Sheedy’s character says her line about one’s heart dying, Judd Nelson’s character responds, too quickly and too coolly (he’s all posture), “Who cares?” And Ally Sheedy, tears filling her heavily madeup eyes, whispers, “I care.”
And it’s beautiful. And when I see that, all I want is a movie or, better yet, a novel just about her (And with no “makeover” at the end). Teenage girls are diverse, and varied, and rich, and filled with light and dark. They feel things and those feelings are interesting and valid and filled with layers and meaning. They deserve novels about them. Lots of them. And I want to read them—both to think about being a teenage girl, both then and now, and to reflect on my own experience. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we read? To understand someone else’s experience and, in so doing, our own?
Thank you, Megan!
THE FEVER by Megan Abbott
The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.
The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.
As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.
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Between Megan's guest post and the book overview, I can't wait to read THE FEVER! I also happen to have a copy I can giveaway to one US resident!
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Winner will be given 48 hours to respond to my email. I will pick a winner on July 23!