In this powerful collection, well-known YA authors answer real letters from teens all over the world about the dark side of love: dating violence, break-ups, cheating, betrayals, and loneliness. This book contains a no-holds-barred, raw outpouring of the wisdom these authors have culled from mining their own hearts for the fiction they write. Their responses are autobiographical, unflinching, and filled with love and hope for the anonymous teen writers.
With contributors Becky Albertalli, Adi Alsaid, Libba Bray, Mike Curato, Heather Demetrios, Amy Ewing, Zach Fehst, Gayle Forman, Corey Ann Haydu, Varian Johnson, A.S. King, Nina LaCour, Kim Liggett, Kekla Magoon, Sarah McCarry, Sandhya Menon, Cristina Moracho, Jasmine Warga, and Ibi Zoboi.
|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Heather Demetrios is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Something Real, I'll Meet You There, and Bad Romance. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
YOU ARE SO FAR FROM BROKEN
Dear Unrequited Love,
I'll hate him for you.
I mean, wow. This guy's an actual shitstain. But you? You're beautiful. And you're brave. Look at what you did: You loved someone fearlessly. You got your heart broken. You went to school the next day anyway and got your heart broken again. You responded by showing him exactly what grace looks like. And here you are, picking yourself up and dusting yourself off every single day.
I was a lot like you when I was younger. I went to school. I had friends. But I had this entire inner romantic landscape, shaped by books and movies and fairy tales and hormones. I don't think I'll ever find the words to explain the sheer force of my longing for the romantic leads in particular nineties teen rom-coms. Devon Sawa, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ethan Embry, with their shy smiles and twinkly eyes, tripping over themselves to make grand romantic gestures to the beautiful skinny girls they were in love with.
And then there was me: on the couch, eating Goldfish crackers, smeared in zit medication, wondering what it would feel like to be worthy of cinematic grand gestures. I thought I wasn't worthy, but I wanted it badly. That is, I wanted love. Also, I wanted to be worthy. And in my middle-school heart, these two concepts — love and worthiness — were dangerously intertwined.
Of course, it wasn't just movies. At school dances, at bar mitzvahs, everywhere I went, it seemed like everyone around me had somehow cracked the code. I'd barely mastered eye contact, and my friends were slow-dancing and holding hands and sometimes even kissing — which was a thing I thought about constantly. I practiced kissing my own arm — I actually did that — but it wasn't exactly to improve my skills for the real deal. It was an attempt to approximate what kissing felt like. I wasn't sure I'd ever get to try it out on someone else's lips.
Because I wasn't like the girls who slow-danced and held hands and kissed. I was quiet and earnest and pudgy. The other kids wore Abercrombie. I wore oversized nature-themed T-shirts and gym shorts in the summer, and turtleneck tunics all winter. My hair wouldn't stay in its ponytail, and I was always pushing up my glasses. Once a boy sat behind me in class and murmured l-l-l-l-liposuction. I saw a slam book once that voted me the "plainest" girl in seventh grade. I don't know if any of this sounds familiar to you, UL — I hope not — but I'm guessing you understand the feeling. Sir Shitstain made you understand the feeling. Disgusting. Unworthy.
High school was better, sort of. I never had one of those teen-movie-style transformations, but I was a bit more comfortable in my skin. For the first time in my life, I had friends who were boys. Sometimes I had crushes on them — achingly physical, intensely real, absolutely top secret. I'd joke around with them during the school day, and there was so much casual touching at play rehearsal ... Romance didn't feel attainable, but sometimes it felt close. Sometimes I loved how it felt to want someone. I used to cry in my car when certain songs came on the radio. Every unrequited love song was about me. I felt very alive. I was constantly in love, but I could never say it out loud. I guess I didn't want to burden anyone by loving them. I guess I still felt unworthy.
Here's how the next part of the story should go: I go to college. I get confident. Either I kiss a million boys, or I stop caring about kissing. I'm brave and self-possessed and my goals are bigger and I'm better.
Here's how it actually goes: I go to college, and I've still never had a boyfriend, still never been kissed, still want it desperately. But sophomore year, I met a cute boy with glasses. We were at a party in my friend's dorm room. I remember sitting beside him on my friend's bed, talking like we were the only two people in the room. And I thought: Maybe this is finally happening. Maybe I've unlocked the secret.
I saw him around campus a few times in the following weeks. I learned his last name. I learned he was an English major and a writer. There was no Facebook back then, but I found him in the campus directory. I knew his email address, even though I was nowhere near brave enough to use it. But I was getting braver in other ways. I never used to confess my crushes, but I told my friends about this one. I said hi to him and smiled when I passed him between classes.
And I wrote an essay about him in a creative nonfiction writing class. It wasn't only about him. I didn't mention his name. But it was about that party and that feeling of connection and my hopefulness, even weeks later, and how I'd take the long way to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because I knew I'd run into him. It was about how I never knew the right thing to say or what to do with my hands, and it was about how those tiny moments could make or break my day. It was painfully honest, more so than I'd ever been. I didn't try to publish it or put it on the Internet — I would rather have died. But even submitting it to my professor was like handing over my heart.
The semester went on. I worked up the nerve to invite this boy to a party, and I'd obsessively rehearsed the whole encounter. I was still maneuvering to bump into him between classes, so that's when I planned to make my move. I'd mention the party casually, like I just happened to remember it. I'd ask for his email address — because I'd never let him know I'd already memorized it. Then, I'd forward him the info for the party, and when he showed up, I'd miraculously look like a nineties rom-com love interest. He'd ignore everyone else, and we'd talk for hours, just like the night we met. And then we'd kiss and have lingering eye contact, and he'd be my boyfriend. I'd have a boyfriend. And since me with a boyfriend was incomprehensible, there would obviously be some kind of transformation montage. I'd become the kind of girl who inspired grand romantic gestures. This was finally about to happen.
Anyway, I found him after class and asked him. Super casual, no big deal. There's going to be a party. You should totally stop by.
He was nice. I remember that. He smiled and told me the party sounded cool. He asked me to keep him in the loop about it.
And then he gave me the wrong email address.
It was a strange mistake for him to make. I knew people sometimes gave the wrong phone numbers on purpose to reject overly persistent suitors. But I didn't think I was overly persistent. For all my pining, I'd barely talked to this boy. And I'd structured the entire interaction so it wouldn't look like I was asking him out. Of course I wasn't asking him out. Not asking him out was my only move, really. I was the best at never putting myself out there, and I was the best at never getting rejected.
I didn't think I was being rejected.
It had to be a mistake. A rom-com moment. And wasn't it so like me to fall for a beautiful English major in glasses who couldn't remember his own email address?
I emailed him about the party. I used the correct email address, of course — the one he must have thought he'd given me. I even had a story ready to go, about how I got a Mailer Daemon from the email address he gave me — HILARIOUS, RIGHT — and only then did I look Mr. Mailer Daemon up in the campus directory. Of course. It's not like I'd ever think to look him up otherwise.
Anyway, he never wrote back. He also never showed up to the party.
A few days later, I ran into him outside my creative nonfiction classroom.
A few days after that, I learned he was my writing professor's teaching assistant, which means he'd read all my essays.
He'd read that essay.
To his credit, this boy never called me ugly. He never said I disgusted him. He was kinder than Sir Shitstain — but holy shit, did I feel ugly and disgusting. I finally got it. This boy didn't have any difficulty remembering his own email address. He was passively, politely rejecting me. I hated the thought of him pitying me — but even worse, I hated being something he had to deal with. My love was a burden, like I'd always suspected.
I was unworthy, like I'd always suspected.
You're a more generous person than me, UL, because you don't hate Sir Shitstain. I definitely hated Mr. Mailer Daemon. My best friend and I stopped speaking his name. We literally called him "The One We Hate." And, fifteen years later, I still cringe when I think of him. I especially cringe picturing him reading this letter. "Jesus," he'll say. "This girl is writing about me again?"
Or maybe (probably, hopefully) he doesn't remember me at all.
My dearest UL: I'm so sorry to say you'll probably always remember Sir Shitstain. You may forget his face or even his name, but you'll remember how he made you feel. And I hate that. This kind of moment sears you. I wish it didn't. I also wish I could say this pain will make you stronger or braver, but I don't think that's true. There's nothing good or redemptive about what he did to you. And if there's a lesson there, he's the one who has to learn it. Not you.
But here's the good news: This experience doesn't need to be a lesson. It doesn't need to make you strong and brave. You're already strong and brave. So was I. We just can't always see it.
I'm thirty-four years old as I write this. I'm in love, and I'm married to the person I'm in love with. I have two children and a career I adore. I've held copies of my books in languages I can't read. I've visited the set of my book's movie adaptation. Do I feel unworthy sometimes? Absolutely yes. Am I confident and self-possessed? Not always. Not even usually. But I'm proud of what I've done and how the years have transformed me.
The years really have transformed me. I think the same thing will happen to you.
But here's the part that surprised me: Finding love wasn't the transformation. My first kiss didn't transform me. Neither did my first relationship, my first breakup, or my big summer wedding. The transformation wasn't even about me beginning to feel worthy — or, more importantly, understanding the difference between finding love and being worthy. I'm worthy now. I was worthy then. And I see that now, but that's not the thing I'm most proud of.
I'm proud that now, in my thirties, I'm finally talking about this. All of it: these feelings, these experiences, my insecurities, my shame, and the fierceness of my longing. Now when I write, I take my armor off first. Sometimes I write about people I love, and sometimes those people read what I write. It's never easy. It's terrifying. But I'm more proud of the honesty in my books than anything else about them. I'm proud of my honesty in my personal and professional relationships. I'm proud of my honesty on social media, and I'm proud of my honesty with myself. This is how I put my heart on the line. This is the way I know how to be brave.
And this is what you did in the letter you sent me. I'm in awe. You're sixteen years old. I know you think Sir Shitstain broke you, but you are so far from broken. You wrote to me, holding the door of your heart wide open. You amaze me. You inspire me.
You're so brave, and I love you.
There's nothing stupid about wanting to be loved. Believe me.
— Everything Leads to You, Nina LaCour
I'm scared. I'm scared that something's wrong with me, or that people don't find me attractive or don't like me or something like that. I'm a senior in high school, and I've been in two relationships, one in ninth grade that was with a friend — we never actually ended up going on a date. The other was last year, and lasted a whopping three days. Besides that, no one's ever come up to me and asked me out, or told me that they like me, or even asked if I'd want to sit with them at lunch or something. A lot of my friends have had relationships before, even freshmen that I know are more experienced or lucky than me. I think I'm pretty, but I just don't know what is wrong with me that no one would want me. My mom tells me that things will be different in college, that I'll find someone there, but I'm so scared that it will be just like high school all over again. Last year for junior prom this other girl asked me to go with her, and asked me if I wanted to date her, too, and I said yes. She got a different girlfriend around a week later. I just want to know what's wrong with me, because I'm trying to do everything right, but nothing is working. I know that high school relationships usually don't work, but I at least wanted to try. I'm graduating in a couple weeks, and I've only ever been on one date. I know that things are supposed to get better, but I'm scared that nothing is going to change. I'm scared that I'm not good enough.
Love, Scared, 17CHAPTER 2
You are good enough.
I'll say it again, because I know that this statement is a tricky one to believe sometimes. So much around us and inside of us says, in so many overt and covert ways, that we are not. But believe me: You are good enough.
The summer after my senior year of high school, I worked in a bookstore. On weekend mornings, we would pick up giant thermoses of coffee from the café a few doors down so that our customers could sip while they browsed. It became my job to pick up the coffee, and when I walked into the café on my first morning shift, a cute boy just a little older than me was working there alone. He wore worn corduroy pants and hemp bracelets. He had a deep laugh and a slender body. He listened to music I'd never heard of. I remember wondering if he found me attractive. I remember thinking, Will he choose me? When he asked me out to dinner a few weeks later, I said yes. I rode in his car through the tunnel and over the bridge and into San Francisco, lit up and brilliant on a Saturday night, and we sat across from each other at a Chinatown restaurant and made flirtatious, tentative conversation. And so we began.
It sounds familiar, right? A little like the plot of a predictable movie? It's what we picture for ourselves because we've been shown a million versions of it. We are tricked into thinking that this story is true for everyone, and then when it isn't true for us, we wonder why. You wanted this in high school — a person who would find you attractive, who would ask you out. I can feel the sadness in your letter — your sadness — and I want you to know that it's okay to grieve that high school relationship you didn't get to have. In all fairness, you did have a little bit — the thing with your friend in ninth grade, the three-day fling, an invitation to junior prom. These are more than what a lot of teenagers have by the time they finish high school. But still. You wanted something more than that. I'm sorry that you didn't get it.
Why don't you imagine it now, what it could have been like? Picture the person who would have asked you out. Maybe you two would have gone out on a proper date, to the movies or for ice cream in a park while you watched the sunset. Maybe you would have stayed out until your curfew, telling each other about yourselves. Maybe your first kiss would have been awkward at first and then passionate, and maybe you would have found ways to be at your houses when your parents were gone so that you could do more than kiss. You would have shown up at parties together, arms around each other. You would have slow-danced and made out in a corner. You would have taken up entire pages in each other's yearbooks. Or maybe you would have done none of these things — you're the only one who knows exactly what you wanted. Close your eyes and imagine it. Let it all play out.
It could have been really great.
Now, when you're ready, go ahead and let it go.
Scared, I want to tell you a secret. I've spent so much of my life trying to make myself a blank slate for other people. Nodding and smiling and saying yes. Waiting to be chosen. Wanting to be liked. Trying not to take up space, to never inconvenience, to read the mood of another person and alter my own to match them. I've spent so much of my life saying, "Me too," "It's up to you," "I really have no preference." The people who've grown to know me have done so in spite of this, not because of it. They've had to work harder. I know now that it's okay to be messy and difficult and angry and sad. It's okay to want things and to go after them. It's okay to end friendships or relationships that aren't working. It's okay to be inconvenient, to need something from someone and to ask for it. But it took me thirty-four years of living and a good therapist to get here. I still doubt myself far too often. I still marvel at how simple and true and freeing it is to say, "I disagree."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dear Heartbreak"
Copyright © 2018 Heather Demetrios.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
You Are So Far from Broken * Becky Albertalli,
Grow Wildly * Nina LaCour,
Do You Care to Reside Within? * Adi Alsaid,
If You Call, I Will Answer * Kekla Magoon,
We Have to Be Who We Are * Libba Bray,
We're Not Alone * Kim Liggett,
Stay You * Mike Curato,
How to Find a Boyfriend in Your Heart * Sarah McCarry,
I Am Tired of Trying to Prove My Worth * Amy Ewing,
Who Said I Have to Give My Heart Up for Breaking? * A.S. King,
Own Your Heart * Jasmine Warga,
Bigger Than Heartbreak * Sandhya Menon,
Life in the Friend Zone * Varian Johnson,
Down the Rabbit Hole and Out the Other Side * Cristina Moracho,
Love Is All, Love Is You * Heather Demetrios and Zach Fehst,
Knock Down Those Walls * Ibi Zoboi,
Open the Door and Walk Through It * Corey Ann Haydu,
The Teacher of All Things * Gayle Forman,
About the Editor,