Let Her Love – The Importance of Being a Fan(atic)

There’s nothing wrong with being a Belieber or a Directioner. There, I said it. Hell, I encourage it. I would be a huge stinking hypocrite if I didn’t. You know why? Because all of my notes written in Middle School were addressed to me thusly:


Yes. I was a Duran Duran fanatic. (I just asked my husband what it was that Duran Duran fans were called. Was it Duranies? He answered, “I think it was Duranarrheas.”  He was not and is still not a fan, needless to say, though he has listened to the Talking Heads album “Stop Making Sense” eleven billion times since he was a teenager.)

In 1984 you had to pick your band member of choice and mine was obviously the gorgeous bass player. My best friend Stephanie had obviously more love in her 13 year old soul for Simon LeBon.  Making the decision to boldly love with all of our hearts was important to us. We taped songs from the radio when they came on, bought every piece of merchandise/magazine/album pressing we could find.  It gave our lives shape. Middle School wasn’t just a string of sucky days broken up by band concerts and lame family vacations.  We could talk constantly about concert dates, album releases, and the band’s pursuits. It was very IMPORTANT. We wrote fan fiction. We loved – HARD.  All American bands sucked as far as we were concerned. If they weren’t British, they were crap!  When I read somewhere the poets whom Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins admired, I read all of her poems.  It made life bearable. It was safe and comforting and was a way to find my tribe. I belonged.

I’ve read a few interviews with YA authors who are asked, “What were you like as a teenager?” and their response is usually, “Oh God!  I was such an awkward and weird mess.”  That’s usually the extent of it and it makes me sad.  Of course, it’s not just YA authors. Many people talk that way about their adolescence as if they have offed that version of themselves that thank God they’e lived long enough to make people forget about the 15 year old version of themselves. That’s not how it should work, says I. Here I am at 16 with one of my best friends Andy:IMG_0368

He is brandishing a cassette.  I am wearing an oversize blue wool Benetton sweater over a Bernadette Peter’s in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s ‘Song and Dance’ Broadway show t-shirt that my boyfriend had drawn for me with a sharpie. We’re in Andy’s basement bedroom in Colorado during a trip that I paid for by working six days per week busing tables at the Officer’s Club on the Air Force Base where we lived. His room is covered in albums and album art and we’re big dorks.

I was a huge fan.  I didn’t just like things. I loved them so much that I was sure I’d die from my heart bursting open. It wasn’t frivolous. When my paternal grandfather died just months after my maternal grandfather the summer I was 16, I walked into what had been his CB room and put The Smiths on a tape player and cried and listened for hours alone. I knew that Morrissey understood.  Thank God I had him in my life.

One of the greatest outrages of my teenage life came in the summer of 1985.  Our family had to move from Springfield, Virginia to Montgomery, Alabama that summer and my parents scheduled our drive to Alabama on July 13th, 1985 – THE DAY OF LIVE AID! I missed the whole thing! The tragedy was impossible to communicate to my parents, and I’m still mad about it.  If you’re my age, then you know how scarring this was for me. If you’re a teenager now, I just can’t think of a similar event that would be its equivalent.  It was a tragedy!!!! A tragedy, I say!

I still love music, musicians and artists. I’m far from unique. I also still love the same music that I loved when I was 13 and still listen to it.  I play music and music videos for my reading classes when we’re all thought out for the day and need a break. When I start a YouTube video, I inevitably say, “I loooooove this (band, song, video).” One day one of my students said, “You love things too much, Ms. Lively.”  I thought it was a huge compliment.

My latest obsession is Pentatonix. I am a Pentaholic and I don’t care who knows it.  It gives me cachet with the kids, because they know that I love a band that is just starting to become very famous. If you don’t know who Pentatonix is, you should because they’re the most fantastically talented and amazing humans on the planet Earth.  I am going to go see them in concert this Thursday night March 19, 2015 and it will be my Penta-Pentatonix concert. I will be a part of the five-timers-club. I have rediscovered my former ecstatic fan self with this band. After they won the “Sing Off” on NBC, they went on tour and I took my whole family to see them at a small concert at the Howard Theater in DC. I don’t think that the show was even sold out. My youngest son, Lance is now 11 and has a harder time making friends than my older children. He also has a rich fantasy life.  He found solace in watching Pentatonix on youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/PTXofficial for hours. They are young, they are genuine and they’re fantastic and their videos often feature candid talking as if you are sitting on a tour bus with them, or laughing at their weird and even dorky jokes.  I bought VIP tickets for Lance and me for the last 3 concerts we’ve attended. Last March, I splurged and bought front row center tickets for the two of us at DAR Constitution Hall in that included a private concert in their dressing room. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was amazing.

Lance PTX 2014

I’m still the same person I was at 13.  I have been telling my students for a few years that Pentatonix’s tall, beautiful, blonde and half my age singer, Scott Hoying is my boyfriend. They always say, “But, Ms. Lively, you’re MARRIED!” with both scandal and horror in their voices.  My response is always, “But I’m not married to you, so don’t worry about it.”

When we got our posters signed in the line at the last Pentatonix show, I explained to Scott that my students just did not believe that he is my boyfriend. I asked him if he could sign my poster so that they would finally believe in our relationship. He obliged because he’s a fantastic human being not above humoring a woman who enjoys her fantasy life as much now ans she did when she was 13.  So, what was I like as a teenager?  I was pretty much the same girl I am now as this poster will attest.

Scott is my boyfriend

So, though I may be older and have more education and am a wife and mother today, when it comes to my “love life” as a fan, not much has changed. I am still madly in love with a tall, beautiful musician whose music makes me happy. There’s nothing wrong with it. If you’re disparaging a Belieber, a Directioner, a Kanye devotee, Taylor Swift, or a Beyonce love, because they’re “just a teenager and they don’t know what they’re doing and have terrible taste in music” you’re just wrong.  We teens and former teens know what we love and there is not logic or empirical data that makes an impact on us. Just stand aside and let us “belieb,” or “direction” or be the biggest “Swifty” in the world.  We’ll all “Save a Prayer” that you find something to love like we have.


Get Over It

Hippodilly Circus Contributor AS King is one of my favorite authors.  When I recommend her books to people, which I do often, I say that she is so honest with her characters’ voices that I often read a paragraph and feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. She captures the feelings of adolescence so honestly and without sentimentality that I am yanked right back to my teenage life and emotions. Her books heal my teenage self and let me know that someone else out there understands how I felt and still feel.  She is also passionate about changing the way we treat teens and wrote this post for Hippodillly Circus for which I am very grateful. 

I get great fan mail. A lot of the time, I get letters from adults. Those who are used to reading YA literature don’t usually give me reasoning for reading it or connecting to my characters. They know already that young adult literature can be enjoyed by all age groups and they don’t have any reason to explain themselves.

But the letters I get from people who have only recently discovered young adult literature and enjoyed my books often include a line like this one:

Not sure anyone ever completely gets over their high school/teen years.

In fact, that’s an actual line from a letter I got this week. The man who wrote to me was very kind and had read almost all of my books after reading one that he enjoyed. He was so excited to find these books—books that resonated with him so many decades past his teen years. But he needed to add this phrase to make it okay.

Not sure anyone ever completely gets over their high school/teen years.

It got me to thinking. (Okay, I’m always thinking so it got me to thinking more, I guess.) Why do people say this to me? Why do adults separate themselves so much from the teen experience? I have my theories. I will explore them in future posts. But today, I want to speak to this idea that teenhood is something to “get over.”

I replied to the lovely man who wrote me the letter. I thanked him for taking the time to write. I thanked him for his support. And then I wrote this, because I decided that if the revolution is going to start, it will start by people speaking up about teenhood in American culture:

You know, I don’t think it’s so much that we don’t get over our teen years. I think it’s just that stuff that happened to us as teens keeps happening to us as adults, so we can still relate. Our culture sticks teens in a box and disrespects them terribly, really. How many times have we heard about our children, “Well just wait until she’s a teenager!” as if this means our child will turn into this unmanageable creature we can’t understand. How many times have we rolled our eyes at a teenager who has an opinion of his or her own? We underestimate them and then wonder why they undervalue themselves. And that is our starting line to life, right? When we become adults, it’s only after this hazing ritual of being a teenager in our culture.

I will add to this reply here:

We arrive at the starting line feeling like anything we have to offer is bullshit to the people in charge because for so many years, we were just seen as going through a series of phases that would eventually go away like acne or weird pubescent sweating. Even if those phases were passion for art or music or sport or a pastime that we loved. Even if those phases were something that could have grown into a real vocation that would make us happy for the rest of our lives. If we thought it up in our teen years, there’s a good chance someone squashed it. And you know as well as I do that this never goes away. Plenty of adults have great ideas that are squashed. Plenty of adults are undervalued and treated unfairly. I know several people in my life who think I’m still just going through “a writing phase” and I’m 45 years old, feeding my family with my work, and I have a decent career.

I remember being 22 and thinking teenagers were so annoying. That’s about when it stopped for me because I was a 22-year-old woman in a man’s workplace and I realized that nothing had changed for me, really. There was still plenty of eye-rolling. It was still up to me to back my own ideas. It was still up to me to support my own value. It was still up to me, and it still is, to fight for my own rights as a human being. That started in my teen years. It hasn’t ended yet.

So maybe the reason adults can connect with young adult characters is because, as much as we want to dismiss teen life and everything that goes along with it, it’s still our life. I don’t have to take a standardized test this year, but I have to do my taxes. I don’t have to get up for school, but I have to get up for work. I don’t have to do homework but I have plenty of paperwork that crosses my desk in a week and an inbox that never gets emptied.

Life is life. Childhood—the years before we hit thirteen—is seen as nostalgic and forgivingly innocent. But teenhood is debased and dismissed for no good reason when it’s really the most important part of development. It’s when we find our feet. It’s when we might even find the beginnings of ourselves…only to be told that we’re being silly, immature, or impractical.

I knew I wanted to write novels when I was 14 years old. The only way I actually made it happen was to move 3,000 miles away from the people who rolled their eyes at the idea. Not many former teenagers have the opportunity I did to make that move. What happens to their dreams?

A.S. King is the award-winning author of highly-acclaimed young adult novels including Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Reality Boy, the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Ask the Passengers, Everybody Sees the Ants, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz and the upcoming I Crawl Through It. After fifteen years living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives in Pennsylvania. Find more at www.as-king.com.


YA Authors Say It Better Than I Possibly Could

I really believe that YA books save people. There are so many books I’ve read in my 30s and 40s that have hit me in the gut and made me realize, tearfully in many cases, that I was never alone when I was a teenager or young adult.  I thought I was the only one who felt stupid, weird, misunderstood and unseen. I didn’t have a tragic adolescence. I had friends, boyfriends and didn’t suffer abuse. However, I felt terrible about myself and my circumstances much of the time. Even more painful, I felt alone as if nobody could understand or even wanted to. Nobody really listened to me because we were all trying so hard to be heard that we didn’t have time to listen to each other. Now that I am older and have teenage children, I’ve found YA books that say what I felt so clearly that it’s like a punch in the gut followed by a flood of appreciation from my teenage self. I find myself overwhelmed by the relief of hearing someone else say what I felt. I can feel the teenager in me relax and suffer less as I realize I was never alone.

I honestly feel that the therapeutic value of this experience is enormous.  I never went to therapy as a teen. I wanted to and my mother threatened me with it, but we never went. In the eighties, there was still a big stigma about therapy and for my family it probably wouldn’t have ever happened. My dad was a high ranking Air Force Officer and I don’t know if he’d have had the time or the desire to attend therapy or allow us to go.  Reading these books has given me book friends who understand and share my pain. It’s one of the reasons I keep reading them.

Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best out there writing YA books. She is fantastic. Reading her book ‘Speak’ in graduate school cut me open.  I felt like someone reached inside and found my feelings and put them into this deeply moving book. It’s such an important book and gives voice to anyone who was sexually assaulted or ignored when they needed help. When she came to Politics and Prose last year to talk about her newest book ‘The Impossible Knife of Memory’, I made sure I was there. She’s a fantastic speaker and she “gets” teenagers in an honest and compassionate way. She is never condescending. I asked her to sign my copy of the new book with an inscription to my classes. She wrote, “To Ms. Lively’s Class: Because books help when life sucks.”  It’s the perfect message and it’s undeniably true.

Here’s an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson from Buzzfeed that shows her understanding of teens, YA books and the pain of adolescence better than I could.

Laurie Halse Anderson Interview :

Another Buzzfeed story (Is that what you call the content on Buzzfeed, stories?) this time featuring the undeniable power and brilliance of JK Rowling.  She interacts with her fans sparingly on twitter and other places and when she does, the power of her words, acts and of Harry Potter tend to overwhelm those with whom she interacts personally. I am in no way prepared to talk about what Harry Potter and JK Rowling have meant to me and my family and couldn’t do it justice if I tried right now, so I will leave JK Rowling and her lovely relationship with a young man speak for me and likely many others.

JK  Rowling’s Beautiful Letter to a Fan 

Keep reading Young Adult books. They can heal your teenage self by showing you that you are not now and never were alone. If you’re a teenager now reading this, just know that all of your parents and teachers were once just like you and struggling to figure out what to do with themselves. Most of us still are from time to time.