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Book Review: Dear Teen Me edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally

Every once in a while you come across an idea so genius you wish you had thought of it.  One of those ideas is Dear Teen MeDear Teen Me began as a website and is now a book published by Zest Books.  In Dear Teen Me, an eclectic variety of teen authors have written letters to their teenage selves – see, genius!  Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, these letters are all full of the wisdom that comes from getting older (and wiser they say) and looking back on the suckage that we call the teenage years. Over 70 amazing teen authors contribute their stories.

Dear Teen Me edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally
Published by Zest Books October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-9369762-1-8 ($14.99)
Serious questions will be answered . . .
Who had a really bad first kiss?
Who found her true love at 18?
Who skipped prom to go to a Grateful Dead concert?
But intermixed in all the fun are the stories that will change a teen’s life.

Six of My Favorite Letters

Tom Angleberger
This, Tom’s entry, is notable because it is written as a comic, not surprising given who he is. But it adds that element of fun to the book. There are a few other graphic novel/comic book type entries as well. (Note, you can get teens to create their own comics using a variety of free online programs or the iPhone app Comic Book)

Ilsa J. Bick
This is a truly fascinating letter where Bick discusses the anger issues of her father, finding a Nazi knife in the bushes, and the lies our parents tell us to keep everyone “safe”.  Very interesting.

Lauren Oliver
Look, we all know I love Lauren Oliver.  So when I saw she was in there I went right to her letter, which she jointly wrote with Elizabeth Miles.  It turns out Lauren and Elizabeth are BFFs.  I liked the overall message of this letter: you can remain friends, even if you didn’t necessarily start out as friends.

Cheryl Rainfield
If you have read Scars by Chery Rainfield, you know that Cheryl was at one time a cutter. You also know that she tried to commit suicide. This letter will rip your guts out and hand them to you on a plate. I was so moved by her honesty and bravery in sharing.  There will be tears.

Tom Ryan
Tom is gay.  Tom didn’t always know he was gay; sure, he probably suspected, but coming out was something that Tom really struggled with.  In this touching letter to his teenage self Tom tells a younger Tom that it’s okay to come out.  Again, moving and inspiring.

Lisa Burstein (online)
Lisa’s letter does not appear in the book, it is on the website.  But the website is a great way to supplement the book with ongoing discussions.  Lisa’s letter is a well written but heartbreaking account of being raped by her boyfriend.  It is a tragic but important reminder to us all that No Means No.  As with Cheryl Rainfield, I was so moved by Lisa Burstein’s honesty and bravery. And yes, I cried.

In the end, Dear Teen Me is witty, heartfelt, sarcastic, sad, inspiring . . . all those things we want from a great teen book.  It is laid out well (most letters are a 2 to 4 page spread) and has some fun, creative flourishes (each author includes a teenage picture that looks like a postal stamp).  This is an easy read for browsers.  And let’s be honest, teens will love laughing at the pictures inside.  Interspersed through the book are sections of Q&A where our authors give short answers (Q: What’s your most embarrassing moment? A: Misspelling “seamen” in a sports article for the school paper – Cynthia Leitich Smith).
Ways to Use Dear Teen Me in the Classroom or Library

As a librarian, the only thing I wish is that they had added an index in the back of some of the major topics (such as friendship, peer pressure, sexuality, suicide, etc.).  This would really enhance its use in the classroom and in library programming, which I think it has great potential for.  Short stories like these can be great for classroom use, writing prompts and discussion starters.

When doing thematic units, you can pull out one of the entries to highlight the concept you are discussing. And see how much easier that would be to do if there were an index.  But, as you read Dear Teen Me you will find your favorite entries and you’ll know which wants you want to use.  This is why PostIt Notes were invented.

In addition, you can get teens to write letters to themselves in a variety of ways to spark some creative writing prompts.  Have seniors write a letter to their freshman selves.  Or have them write a letter to their adult selves – who says it can only go backwards.  As a serial Dear Teen Me writer (see links below), I can tell you it is a lot of fun and very inspiring.

Many times schools and libraries put together time capsules to open later.  Why not include a letter to ourselves?  Every Teen Read Week ™ you can have your teens gather together and see where they were last year.

Final Thoughts

This is a must have (4.5 out of 5 stars, I deduct points for no index) for every library, both school and public.  We have been so obsessed with this project that we have several posts about it that you can read, including our own Dear Teen Me letters.  In fact some of us – **cough** Karen **cough** – have written more than one.  Follow the links and read our Dear Teen Me letters:

Dear Teen Me with Christie G
Dear Teen Me, the tiny little paths set abundantly before you
Dear Teen Me, De Ja Vu with Karen J
Dear Teen Me, with love from Stephie Jo

The Dear Teen Me Q&A (answer in the comments if you dare):
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Who was your celebrity crush?
What was your first job?
Where was your first kiss?

Dear Teen Me events page: http://zestbooks.net/events/
Zest Books Dear Teen Me book page: http://zestbooks.net/dear-teen-me/

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