Letter to my Seventeen-year-old Self
People call you Allie now, I know you hate it but there came a time in your life when you needed to change; you needed to redefine yourself on your own terms and Allie is what you chose.
It grows on you.
I write this letter from ten years in your future.
A whole decade.
To think you were convinced you would die before you turned 20. Now at 27, you’re pretty happy and healthy. I won’t tell you to stop worrying about it though… you wouldn’t listen anyway.
The intention of this letter is not to tell you what to do, see above for reason why.
The intention of this letter is not to tell you to change because I am who I am today because of you.
The intention is this:
I love you. I’ve always loved you and I always will.
That kind of love that you’ve been craving; the kind of love you obsess over; the kind of love where someone accepts you for everything you are; that fairytale love that grows stronger with every passing moment; I’m writing to tell you that you will find it.
I promise you that.
You won’t believe me, your stubbornness is legendary, but I can promise it because it’s me who loves you; it’s you who learns to love yourself.
You will never forget what happens to you on your toxic search for love, you will never forget what happened to you, or decisions you are going to have to make in the near future but you are strong and you will make peace with yourself.
You will make peace with your mistakes.
It is when you finally decide that you are worth the kind of love you are desperately searching for that he will find you.
Who is he, you are going ask. What does he look like? Where is he from?
You’ve always asked too many questions, Allison, you’ve always been too stubborn to just let things play out the way they should.
It is what causes most of your problems, but it is also where you draw your strength to make the change.
I will not tell you who he is, but only that you already know him, you just don’t know yet that you love him. You don’t know yet that he is the only one that you will ever remember, that he is your very definition of love.
You don’t know this yet, but you will. When you open your eyes to yourself, when you finally feel like you deserve this kind of love, you will know it.
When you love yourself, he will love you too.
This I promise you.
Love in Time of Adolescence
YA Writers have a big job when it comes to portraying love. Although we all remember what it was like to be a teen; we remember the turmoil, the passion, the betrayals, the drama, and the joy.
Everything was felt so big and so strong that it still shatters me to this day to think about it. I feel it as if it was still happening and I use that to fuel my stories.
But as we get caught up in the drama of it all are we, as writers, forgetting to add the moral.
Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think of myself as a role model and I especially don’t see myself as an adult handing down life lessons to teenagers… that’s a sure fire way to end your career.
But as of late, I have been reading some really great books with really strong lead characters and it got me thinking about the portrayal of love in YA and why I think it gets skewed so often by so many right across the ‘moral spectrum’.
I thought back to my own youth and how impossibly desperate I was for someone to love me.
I had my heart broken, I broke hearts; I tried and failed many times; I disrespected myself and let others disrespect me; I’ve been the abused, and the abuser; I’ve been used and been the user. I’ve manipulated people and been manipulated.
I was young. I tried. I experimented. I explored. I made mistakes. I paid dearly for some of those mistakes.
After thinking about it for awhile, I have narrowed it down to four main themes addressed in YA romance literature.
There are many more of course, but these are the ones I see most often, and the ones I find the most exposed to misinterpretation.
The One-Sided Relationship
This one drives me crazy, not because I think it shouldn’t be written about but because it’s often glossed over in the end by the less-interested discovering their love and then deeming the more-interested worthy.
Pardon my bluntness but that’s a crock of shit… no one should ever be ‘deemed worthy’. In my opinion the more-interested, usually a weak, spineless character who is as much fun as a wet towel, needs to toughen up and say “Listen buddy, I deserve better than this. Shape up or piss off.”
I’ve hung out with mostly guys my whole life and believe me they prefer a woman who knows who she is… it makes their job as a boyfriend so much easier.
NOTE: I said knows who she is, not ‘is a heinous bitch’. It can go too far in the other direction too.
Great example of well-balanced couple who are still passionately in love: Becoming by Raine Thomas
The Romeo and Juliette Syndrome
It’s very romantic to think someone would die for you. I am all for the love that is so tumultuous and destructive that it is beautiful. There are a lot of lessons to be learned and emotions to be explored.
I just find that a lot of YA portrayals of the R&J syndrome are too much Juliette and not enough Romeo… Remember that they both were in on it. They loved each other equally. They were equally to blame. Their family’s were equally as evil.
Great example: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Whether you love or hate Clary, agree with her or not, she is a girl who knows what she is doing. Sure she’s insecure and vulnerable sometimes but we all are. She is willing to die for Jace because she chooses to. She also knows for certain he’d do the same for her.
The Perfect Connection
The love at first sight or soulmate theme is running rampant through YA lit and there is nothing wrong with that, I write about it all the time. It is, afterall, fantasy! Anything goes.
But equality in partnership is lacking. It could start out unbalanced, but real relationships are based on respect, compromise and communication.
These perfect, flawless, super-guys that exist are great mind-candy but the love interest needs to know they always have choices. Even if their love could destroy the world they can still choose.
Choice is what makes books so great, I am most invested in characters that have to make a high-stakes choice.
NOTE: No one should be allowed to choose your future but you.
Great example: The Wake Trilogy by Lisa McMann. Janie and Cabel really are made for each other and while it wasn’t love at first sight, I think it’s a great example of how two people can really be there for each other, love each other passionately, make mistakes and forgive each other. Janie chooses her own way… and so does Cabel.
The Bad Boy Change
People change all the time. It’s a fact of life and an unavoidable one at that. If people couldn’t change, there would be no books; no writers. Without change we would have nothing to write about.
What’s important to know and to teach youth is that you can only change yourself. That guy who smokes and sneaks out and plays girls… he will never change… unless HE wants to.
It’s a wonderful thought to think that someone could love you enough to change for you and it does happen, but it is also very dangerous to expect it to happen. People are who they are and you choose how to respond to them.
NOTE: That does not mean you let people treat you like dirt or walk all over you because ‘that’s who they are’. Standing up for yourself and changing someone are two very different things.
Great example: What a Boy Wants by Nyrae Dawn
To Clarify My Ranting
There is nothing wrong with portraying relationships in any of the above ways in YA.
I firmly and whole-heartedly believe that no topic is off limits. The world is full of both wonderful and horrible experiences and pretending things like teen pregnancy, rape, drug abuse, bullying or domestic violence don’t exist in teen culture is the worst possible thing we can do to our youth.
By teaching youth that these things are taboo, or bad, or sinful or whatever your negative vernacular may be is teaching them to push it further down into themselves; to push it further into the underground so they eventually become unreachable.
Again, don’t get me wrong, these things are bad and horrible and shouldn’t happen to anyone, ever, but they do and we can’t fix something we refuse to acknowledge. We can’t help people by delegitimizing their problems, especially youth. They are talked down to enough in their lives.
No matter how your love story or romance plays out, as a writer I feel the moral should always be the same. There should always be an underlying message, however faint it may be, of acceptance of self.
We should always teach our youth to love themselves. We should show them that by loving and accepting themselves, those around them are more likely to do so.
As writers I feel that it is not our job to wag fingers and teach lessons; nor is it to tell lies or gloss over how the world really works.
Our job is to write stories that we are passionate about.
Our job as writers is to provide an outlet for youth to explore their feelings and their questions honestly and safely.
Our job as writers is to let them know that they are not alone.