Diaries are the greatest and they are the worst. If I didn’t still have my diary, how would I remember the exact details of meeting my BFFFL at the age of 7, or recall that, in 1996, a white turtleneck and black suspenders were my crush-impressing outfit of choice? Then again, do I really want to remember the heartbreak of failed popularity schemes, and having a(n unrequited) crush on every boy?
Because channeling the agonies and ecstasies of the teen years is what they do (and because OMG, reading other people’s diaries!), I asked 13 YA authors to dig deep into the journals of their youths to share the hilarious, heartbreaking, illuminating musings of their teenaged selves. Prepare for squees, tears, and empathy cringing.
I gotta tell you about my dream last night. I dreamed I met N’Sync! In case you don’t know them, they’re a singing group who is sooooo cute! I met all the guys, Joey, Lance, A.J., Brian, and dunno his name. It was cool. Bye for now!
P.S. I think I’ll write down all my dreams from now on, it makes it more personal!
P.P.S. I love Lance Bass
–Rebecca Podos, The Mystery of Hollow Places (age 12)
Note from the author: The reason I’ve selected this vintage 1998 entry is mostly to demonstrate what a little try-hard 12-year-old me was. The truth is, I did not care about *NSYNC. I planted this entry in my diary because I knew my twin sister read my diary, and that she was obsessed with them—she went to their concerts, wore out her VHS copy of *NSYNC *N THE MIX, and owned the official Lance Bass marionette. I wanted my sister’s respect, and thought the only way to gain it was to prove myself a bigger fan of her favorite boy band than she was. Alas, I’m pretty sure she saw through my me, since I misspelled the band’s name, half of the members mentioned were actually in Backstreet Boys, and I couldn’t remember Justin Timberlake.
Tonight, I was shelving books* and the store was totally quiet. Suddenly, I feel these two jabs in my ribs like I was being electrocuted. It scared me so much I farted. I turned around and there’s Heather and Cheryl** and they’re cracking up. I pretended like I thought it was funny too but I wanted to die. Maybe my kids will like this story.
*I worked at a bookstore in high school
**My high school girlfriend and her best friend
–Jeff Zentner, The Serpent King
Just stopped by to reflect on the intricacies of life. On heaven: Would a constant state of happiness be just that. . . constant, and thus, boring? Could I learn to enjoy the certainty, the stability, the unending cosmic staticity? (Can I even say “staticity” ten times fast?) When I think of paradise, I envision a bed of finely combed cotton, me in the center, absorbed in a book. There’s a fireplace. Add a big house with lots of windows. There I am in the master bedroom in the big house with lots of windows. Outside, it’s winter: the air is colder than a snowman with frostbite. Zoom into me again…see how much richer the picture is with a bit of contrast? My supine state is enhanced relative to the arctic outside. How can I enjoy a world without Einstein?
–Stacey Lee, Outrun the Moon (Age 19)
Note from the author: I addressed my journal as “Hadley,” named after a street in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Today was exhausting. School and then musical practice, but even though I’m tired, oh my god, I love it! Playing Lucille is so fun. My favorite song so far is “You Can Dance With Any Girl At All.” Lucille is all passive aggressive and I get to wear this really pretty scarf dress. Lucille and Billy’s marriage is beyond dysfunctional in this play. His character is such a punk sometimes, but he learns his lesson. If only all boys learned so well. Ha!
–Ashley Herring Blake, Suffer Love
Summer in Chicago: tapping down Michigan in red and white Pumas that I bought, not on sale (ow, ow, ow…) at Bloomingdale’s only to see businesswomen with long styled hair and pinstriped suits wearing the same shoes. Poking through Marshall Fields, drooling over kimono shirts and flapper dresses, only to find the same in the tiny store under the Brown line El stop on Belmont. As trains rattle overhead, the hangers on the shelves knock together, and Megs mumbles something about the dressing room door only covering her from her neck to her knees.
Or if a purchase log will help: Bright Eyes, Lifted…; black kimono top (Dad: “Your mother’s upset because you wrote about her banning you from wearing provocative clothing in your Livejournal, but really, I’m the one who’s sick of you looking like Daisy Duke 2003…”), said Pumas, two teen mags for the nightly Metra ride home, sandwiches and Caesars at the Chop House, double-decker ice creams from Scoop’s, cab fare to Lincoln Park and back, twice, on a Wednesday afternoon.
–Brittany Cavallaro, A Study in Charlotte
Mrs. Egan read my “Who Am I” essay aloud Monday! She said it had sincerity ringing true and it made everyone say “ooooo!” That was so important to me. She likes my writing! Arrrgggh, so much HW now. Math. WHY ME!? I just want to watch Growing Pains and The Wonder Years.
–Lygia Day Peñaflor, Unscripted Joss Byrd
I’ll show them. I’ll show them all. I’ll become rich and famous. I’ll make them beg to be my friend. I’ll be sweet and smart and I’ll be true friends with all those who believed in me before my fame, and I’ll be distantly polite to those who were distantly polite to me before my fame. Instead of swearing and being awkward in front of potential boyfriends, I’m going to try to smile a lot, and act like Diana—being friends with them, but in a flirty way. I won’t have bad moods. I won’t have anything bad to say about anyone. I’ll be popular!!
–Emma Chastain, Confessions of a High School Disaster (Age 14)
Note from the author: Spoiler alert: I was not popular.
What talent did I imagine would make me so famous?? Not important. The point was, I was going to make all my jerky junior high classmates—actually a notably wonderful group of people—rue the day they ignored me in the halls, or whatever (I would give anything to know what perceived slight inspired this insane, Machiavellian entry).
I reread my journals when I was writing my first book, and literally had to close one eye and hold the diaries at arm’s length to get through them. The narcissism! The vengefulness! The self-delusion! It’s all so, so embarrassing. But so funny, too.
Alisa and I are doing a project for history on the computer. I stayed after yesterday until 4:00 and got most of it done, then I came home and found the rest of the information in the encyclopedia and wrote it out to give to Alisa so she could put it into the computer. So she checked out a powerbook, and now she’s calling to tell me that it won’t accept our disk. And now she’s calling various people who know computers trying to find someone who can help her. She calls me in between each of them.
–Robin Talley, As I Descended (Age 16)
Last weekend I had a sleepover at my house and we rented Clueless. I thought I would totally hate it and I totally didn’t and now I’m totally saying totally all the time.
–Renée Ahdieh, The Rose and the Dagger
2004 (freshman year): I finished the first book in my series, & am in the process of typing it up. Sometimes I just think, why bother? Who’s going to print it? Blehhhhhh.
2005 (sophomore/junior year): Do people think that just because I’m quiet or something that I don’t have feelings? I hate them. I hate people who just make plans with everyone sitting around me except me … Reading over my journal, I realized that I had asked [my crush] to dance once. Now that may not seem big to you, but it is to me. Maybe I can draw on the courage I had then, and the strong friendships I had in the past, & I can get through this.
2007 (senior year): I’ve been writing again. It’s good. Life is good. I feel like I’ve definitely outgrown high school & its stupid games. But it’s 2007! I GRADUATE this year!
–Amanda Panitch, Never Missing, Never Found
Note from the author: High school me was all over the place emotionally, and I laughed at the adults who told me high school would be the best time of my life. I used my diary to map the person I was becoming—my writing, my frustration with high school games, my attempt to PLAY those games, and my excitement when those games were over.
What kind of ‘help’ does he mean? I’m not addicted to alcohol. I don’t have a problem with pills. I don’t have any problems like that.
–Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere
I can’t imagine living with my brain in the fog like it is now, living with mental withdrawal from the acid….I am nervous, anxiety ridden, I get hot and cold flashes, my heart speeds up unneccessarily…I hope I turn out to be okay. I want to be normal, like other people. I want to be loved. There isn’t anything so terrible about that. I want to be happy. Why am I not allowed to be even that.
–Kathleen Glasgow, Girl in Pieces
Note from the author: In 1985 I was 16, sad, and using a lot of drugs to quell my loneliness and depression, and I’d just started cutting myself. My mother used to lug her IBM Selectric home from her office job on the weekends and I would stay up entire nights, typing, typing, typing. Rereading my diaries for this piece made me cry, to be honest. So many times I typed, “I just want to be loved” or “I just want to be normal.” Adolescence is hard. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy (ba-dump-bump).
On the flip side: I’m alive and sober and my first novel was just published. Life is pretty good over here, after all.
Sometimes when I’m feeling blue, I think of things that make life worth living. Here’s what I came up with today:
– College soon
– Michelle Kwan’s skating
– Pineapple candy
– Sunny days
– Rainy days
– Striped socks
– Socks with cookies on them
– Beanie babies
– Saved by the Bell reruns
– Secret handshakes
– Care Bears
– Jem and the Holograms
– Soft stuffed animals
– Hot chocolate when it’s cold outside
– Good books
– Harry Potter
– Dreaming when you’re awake
– Lying down on the grass
– Funnel cake
– Being in love
– Falling asleep with your cat
– Good hair days
– Going for walks with a friend
– Having a marble collection, so when you misplace it, you can legitimately say you lost your marbles
– Having a good song stuck in your head then hearing it on the radio
– Looking back at the good times and being 100% sure there will be more good times
– Chocolate covered cherries
– Being awoken by birds chirping
– The 1960’s Batman TV show theme song
– Going trick or treating in your senior year of high school
– Scented candles
– Sailor Moon
– Platypi (or is it platypuses?)
– Blushing when you read a sex scene in a novel
– Finding a bathroom when you really REALLY have to pee
– Realizing birthday wishes are futile, but taking a little extra time to blow out the candles anyway
–Melissa Grey, The Shadow Hour