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Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Validating Teens, a guest post by author Annie Cardi (The Sunnydale Project Year 3)

When I talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I talk about it as more than a show. I talk about it as a cultural and emotional touchstone in my life. I talk about it as the show that made me realize that growing up was going to be okay.
My middle school experience started with me spending a lot of time crying in the library, wearing formless JCPenney khakis, and feeling like I was the only one who was having a hard time with this whole ‘being a teenager’ thing while everyone else already had it mastered. Why were some friends suddenly popular? What exactly did boys and girls talk about when they were on the phone together? (“Homework?” I asked my mom.) How did everyone seem to have a chic new wardrobe? Did I forget to pick up my ‘How to Be a Successful Teenager’ manual at middle school orientation? Ideally it would be a manual based on Clueless or Beverly Hills 90210, both featuring popular teens with effortlessly cool wardrobes and good hair and hot boys fawning over them. That’s what I was supposed to have now that I was a teenager, right? So why did it seem so impossible?
Image from giphy.com
Then Buffy premiered. I remembered seeing commercials for the movie, but didn’t know much about it other than the girl-fights-vampires premise. They were making a TV show from that failed, silly movie? I turned on the premiere, pretending I just stumbled across it and told myself I’d change the channel in case my brother walked in the room and decided to make fun of me for checking it out.
But it wasn’t silly—it and witty and creepy and exciting, and it was so refreshing to see a teen girl literally save the world. Beyond that, it was a show about how a) high school is hell, and b) it’s okay to be an outsider.

Every week, Buffy and the Scoobies battled monsters and demons who reflected the awkwardness and pain of the teen experience. Parents can be domineering and abusive (“Witch”); your boyfriend could be sweet one day and a total dick the next (“Innocence”); kids get kicked out of their houses (“Becoming – Part 2”). Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first show I’d seen that admitted that the teen years could, as Buffy herself would say “on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it.” Adults are quick to say that, “It’s not the end of the world, get over it,” but those are empty words when you’re dealing with soul-sucking pain. For Buffy and her friends, every week felt like the end of the world because it was. Even if I wasn’t dealing with a literal hellmouth opening up beneath me, it was validating to see a show that acknowledged that feeling.
And unlike my other middle school favorite, Clueless, Buffy isn’t about a perfect, popular girl’s struggles. Buffy is classically pretty and formerly popular, but where she really finds her place is among the weirdos. Even better, Buffy the Vampire Slayer never looked down on the kids who didn’t fit in. (Saved by the Bell, I love you, but you were seriously obnoxious when it came to depicting nerds.) The show fully recognized that being a nerd is powerful—Buffy could never save the world from apocalypse without the major research skills of Giles and magical/science abilities of Willow behind her. And friendships aren’t based on who has a chic wardrobe or a hot boyfriend—they’re formed by people who will stand by you, even at the end of the world. (Xander Harris and his broken crayon speech in “Grave” kills me.) The popular kids may win Prom King or Queen, but the weirdo hero wins Class Protector. Buffy showed me that it’s okay if you don’t fit in with the popular kids; your friends are the ones who will hang out with you at the library, cheer for your Snoopy dance and help you study for the hell of standardized tests.
Image from Giphy.com
 13-year-old me embraced this weird little show on the WB and all it showed me about the teen experience. And soon I found other people who loved the show and who occasionally felt like high school was hell. As Buffy went to prom, went to college, went to the afterlife and back, and ultimately found a place for herself, we were there with her. We stood at the edge of Sunnydale and looked back and smiled, and knew that we were stronger for having been a small part of this show.
In every generation, there are teens who need something that’s theirs. That reminds them that being a teen is painful and joyful and confusing and awesome and hellish. For some, it’s a YA novel like Twilight or The Hunger Gamesor Harry Potter or The Fault in Our Stars. For me, it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a YA writer, I just want to pay this validation forward.
Bio: Annie Cardi holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and a BA from the University of Virginia. Her short stories have appeared in the Georgetown ReviewVestal ReviewJuked, and other publications. In 2011, PEN New England selected her as a winner of the Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award for the manuscript that would become her debut young adult novel, The Chance You Won’t Return. Annie lives near Boston with her husband and a portrait of a sea captain. You can find her sharing funny gifs and pictures of corgis at:  Blog Facebook Twitter Tumblr.
About The Chance You Won’t Return:
When your mom thinks she’s Amelia Earhart, navigating high school, first love, and family secrets is like flying solo without a map.

Driver’s ed and a first crush should be what Alex Winchester is stressed out about in high school – and she is. But what’s really on her mind is her mother. Why is she dressing in Dad’s baggy khaki pants with a silk scarf around her neck? What is she planning when she pores over maps in the middle of the night? When did she stop being Mom and start being Amelia Earhart? Alex tries to keep her budding love life apart from the growing disaster at home as her mother sinks further into her delusions. But there are those nights, when everyone else is asleep, when it’s easier to confide in Amelia than it ever was to Mom. Now, as Amelia’s flight plans become more intense, Alex is increasingly worried that Amelia is planning her final flight – the flight from which she never returns. What could possibly be driving Mom’s delusions, and how far will they take her? (Publisher’s Description)

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  1. […] wrote two books for the third annual Sunnydale Project: one about validating the teen experience at Teen Librarian Toolbox and one about supporting teen girl fandom at Bookish […]

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