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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/

Dear Teen Me with Christie G

Today as part of the Dear Teen Me blog tour, Christie G writes a letter to her teenage self.  Dear Teen Me: author write letters to their teen sevles edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally.  Dear Teen Me is published by Zest Books (ISBN: 978-1-9369762-1-8).  Read my review here.
Dear Teen Me,

Reading, always getting us through

Yes, high school sucks.  And yes, you’ve become extremely good at hiding that you hate it, and the fact that your inner monolog is more Daria than Disney.  You keep joining things because that is what you’re supposed to be doing, because that’s what’s expected.  And getting good grades because it’s expected.  And keeping quiet because that’s what’s expected.  And really, that’s what’s going to keep us going through high school.

At Space Academy, where we thought our life was heading

But guess what?  WE GET OUT.  It doesn’t seem like it now, but we do.  We get out of our town, and we get into not one but three major colleges, including the BIG ONE, and everything changes.  It doesn’t seem like it at first, because our best friend, the one who we plan on rooming with at college, doesn’t bother to show, doesn’t call, doesn’t write, and you never hear from her again.  But, the switch in marching band from flute to baritone?  You know, the one you’ve been debating because you actually have hated that stupid flute since you picked it up in 5th grade, remember, your older cousin picked it, and it was the least expensive to rent, so in our head we figured that even though everyone said it was our choice, and we really wanted one of the really cool brass instruments, we should get the flute too?  Excellent choice, because we end up in marching band, and that’s where we start to find people who like us for *us*, not for the image we show everyone.  We start to make friends that will stay with us for a lifetime.  We find Florence, and Drew, and Susan and Mel, and Adam, all that first semester of college. 

Us with That Guy, when we first start dating

Then that next semester, I kid you not, you actually find a guy that likes you back, that doesn’t make fun of the fact that you read and solve math in your head, and thinks that we’re amazing.  It’s a little weird that his name is similar to yours, but that’s OK.  And there will be verbal fights with him, but he’s the one.  Trust me.  And we keep adding friends…so much so that by the time we’re seniors we have almost 20 people that we run around with together.

We’ll have found ourselves in college, but that first degree won’t be enough, and so we’ll be in limbo when others will be starting out and things will change where we’ll have to take a huge leap with that guy- move away from Illinois and family and our friends and everything we’ve ever known.  But it’ll be worth it, because it’ll make us stronger and your relationship stronger and we’ll meet so many new people in Texas.  We’ll make new family everywhere we go, but we keep the ones we made in college- through internet, through moves, through email.
First heart kids

There won’t be bio kids, like we’ve always known, but there will be heart kids- ones that we’ve touched somehow, and we will be an important part of their lives.  We’ll get invited to their weddings, and birthday parties, and graduations, and learn their relationships and home lives and orientations.  And nieces and nephews, of family and friends, and that will be more than enough.
Current heart kids

And we’ll start to become a voice- first creating book lists through ALA and then through our writing (YES, weirdly enough, people actually care what we write sometimes!).

Our Dad in 2007 at Le Cellier in Epcot

And there will be really tough times- health scares for us and that guy and our folks, and money scares, and nasty times for all.  But so far, we’ve gotten through it OK.  This year (2012) and next are going to be really hard, and we’re going to have to lean on That Guy, and our Texas Family and our Work Family just to make it through, but we have to have some faith that we will.

Just keep believing in us.  We’re worth it and our future is worth it.

Trust in yourself.

Us with That Guy

Dear Teen Me: De Ja Vu with Karen J

Dear Teen Me,

The phone is ringing and you know that Curtis is calling to tell you that she died.  It is never good news when someone calls this early in the morning.  There are rules about that it seems.

For some reason, the two worst events in your life appear to have happened in a set of 2 days that are distinctly de ja vu.

When your parents sent you to get your brother at a friend’s house, you knew they were going to tell you they were getting a divorce.  And as you walk down the road and knock on the door you swear that this is the exact thing that happened every step of the way when you went to that same neighbors house to get your brother.  That time, your parents told you they were “splitting up” so that they could “work on things.”  You knew then what it really meant.  But you knew this day was coming when you heard your mom crying on the phone to your grandma: “I don’t know where I will go or what I will do she says.”  It’s too much for a girl to handle.

Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letter to Their Teen Selves
Edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally
Published by Zest Books October 2012 (ISBN: 978-1-9369762-1-8)

And here you are, years later having that same de ja vu feeling.  Last Saturday, early in the morning, the phone rang and Curtis told you about the accident.  They don’t know what happened.  She was alone in the car.  She would have been fine if she hadn’t have stood up, but they think when she stood up to say “I’m over here” that her broken rib punctured her lung.  And today the phone is ringing and it is happening again, it is like you already lived this moment and the phone call last week was just a rehearsal for this one.

He says the words and the life is sucked right out of you.  When you had to move, yet again, you didn’t know how to say goodbye this time so you pretended not to care.  You and Teri were just starting to build your relationship again when you got the call.  All that moving around, all that leaving and having your heart broken – you just didn’t think you could do it again because you truly had found some amazing best friends.  I mean, you and Teri used to make Rice Krispie treats and eat the whole pan together.  That right there is a keeper if you ask me.

Here’s what you need to know.  Curtis will come in and out of your life and the two of you will always be best friends bound not only by memory, but by Teri’s spirit.  And every time you make Rice Krispie treats, you will think of Teri and feel blessed.  And you will remember to give yourself over to love, even when you have to say goodbye and it hurts.


Dear Teen Me, with love from Stephie Jo

Because today we are talking about Jenny Torres Sanchez and her involvement in the Dear Teen Me project, Karen Jensen and I decided to try our hand at our own “Dear Teen Me” letters. Be sure to check out the Dear Teen Me project at their website and check out the anthology coming out in Fall 2012. As a fun writing assignment flip the premise and have your teens write a “Dear Adult Me” letter. Make sure they save them until they are adults, it would be interesting to see what they think about them later. (Dear Teen Me published by Zest Books October 30, 2012)
Dear Teen Me,

So many things that I wish to tell you, but knowing us, you’re entirely too headstrong to listen.  Just try to listen and keep an open mind.

You will always love eating…

One thing to get out of the way and quickly.  When you are 13, someone extremely close to you (not family) is going to die in a terrible car accident.  And you will spend months in a dark place because of how close you were to this person and how much you just don’t understand death.  You cannot change things, so I will never tell you who, but just know that death is a part of life and even though we never understand how or why young people are taken from us, God has a master plan.  Another angel to watch over you is never a bad thing in the years to come.

Stephanie as a senior (far right)

So, what can I tell you to try to help?  All those girls you try so hard to be like?  Waste of time.  You’re not friends with any of them.  You only keep in touch through the Internet.  You have good friends now but you ditch them because they weren’t pretty/smart/cool enough to hang around.  The good part is…they become your closest friends in the end.  So save them the heartache of being a total jerkface to them and just be cool.  They ALWAYS have your back.

When you are 16, your parents will buy you a car.  And because you have that car, you will break up with the best boyfriend you have ever had (until much later in life).  He will follow you around school and bring you flowers the next day and you will break his heart.  Go back to him.  Every guy that follows leads you down a path that turns you into a completely different type of girl than who you were when you were with him.  And make sure that no matter what you do, you beg him to spend plenty of quality time with his mother.  Trust me on this. 

Let’s see…what else.  You’re going to meet a girl named Shannon.  And even though this happens after your ‘teens’, NEVER EVER DATE HER BOYFRIEND.  He will hurt the both of you and almost break up a friendship that is lifelong.  She will become the second most important person in your life and impossible to live without.

You’re not going to be valedictorian.  It will rip your little overachieving heart out of your chest.  That speech you wrote back in 9th grade and you saved on the purple floppy disk?  No one will read it.  And you know what?  That’s totally okay.  I don’t remember a damn thing about graduation night other than we went and ate at Applebee’s afterwards.  That’s it.  I don’t remember the speeches or the choir singing songs.  A speech is just a moment in the spotlight, it fades quickly.  Trust me…you have plenty of opportunities in the future to speak and be remembered.  It’s pretty awesome when it happens.

In college, that cute guy in French class will become famous (friend him on Facebook…umm…yes, there is this thing that is cooler than AOL Chat in the future), the hot guy you wanted to date in English turns out to be a total jerk, and you will make decisions that will affect your life and everyone else’s life around you.  BUT…you need to make those decisions.  Things turn out okay for everyone in the end, even though you really hurt a lot of people, including yourself.  And you’re gonna hurt.  And I swear to you on our life, it really does stop hurting after a while. 

And quickly, no smiley face in the tattoo on your back (it’s not that cute 10 years later), no one that you ever meet in a bar turns out to be good news, be more open to new experiences, spend a hell of a lot of time with your grandparents, your Mom is and always will be your closest friend and confidant (she becomes right about 90% of the things she tells you, DON’T GET CREDIT CARDS EVER, tequila is not your friend, and be brave and fearless because you’re capable of so much more than you realize.
Shoulder belongs to hubby. (;

I’m sure you want to know a ton of things about the future…I will tell you that you are  extremely accomplished, you are happy beyond belief, and you are all of the things that you wanted to be in life AND MORE.  I don’t want to spoil some of the awesome things because the way that your life unfolds is the most beautiful piece of the puzzle that is you and it is everything and more that you ever thought you wanted in life.  Trust me.  You haven’t seen anything yet.  (Yes, you do get married.  Finally.  And the guy?  He’ll blow your freaking mind.  In an amazingly fantastic rom-com style that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.  He is the second best thing to happen to you in life.  Not telling on the first. J)

Love you forever and always, Stephie Jo

Stephie Jo, or Stephanie Wilkes as we now call her,  is the Young Adult Coordinator for the Ouachita Parish Public Library in Monroe, Louisiana. I’ve been a ‘librarian’ since 2008, when I graduated from LSU with my MLIS, but working in libraries since 2004 with teens (when I was barely older than they were). My passion is working with teens to connect them to great books. My favorite authors: David Levithan, John Green, John Corey Whaley, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle, and Philip K. Dick (not YA but still full of awesome). I probably could name several more…=) I am the founder and festival director of the North Louisiana Teen Book Festival which will be making it’s debut on April 6, 2013. And then, after 5 pm, I’m a wife to a huge Batman fan and a mother to the most amazing son in the world. Tough life, but somebody’s gotta do it!

Dear Teen Me, the tiny little paths set abundantly before you

Because today we are talking about Jenny Torres Sanchez and her involvement in the Dear Teen Me project, Stephanie Wilkes and I decided to try our hand at our own “Dear Teen Me” letters.  Be sure to check out the Dear Teen Me project at their website and check out the anthology coming to your library in Fall 2012.  As a fun writing assignment, flip the premise and have your teens write a “Dear Adult Me” letter.  Make sure they save them until they are adults, it would be interesting to see what they think about them later. (Dear Teen Me published by Zest Books October 30, 2012)

Dear Teen Me,

Karen as a Freshman

Congratulations, I have great news! You will not always have to wear braces, they really will come off.  And that back brace you are wearing for Scoliosis, it too will magically disappear one day.  And there will be much rejoicing (and much Monty Python watching).  Some things, however, will not change; you will still like to pretend you are a writer and will fill notebooks with cheesy, angsty poetry, you are still an annoyingly picky eater (your life motto: “if it lives in the sea, it ain’t for me” – that was time well spent coming up with that one I tell ya), and you are still a huge reader.  Keep reading because that last part will become very important.

I do have one shocking bit of news.  Are you sitting down?  You will have children.  2 girls.  I know, nobody was more surprised than me to tell you the truth.  The journey to these two little girls will be more heartbreaking than you can ever imagine, but they will turn out to be completely worth it.  Most of the time.  Your oldest daughter will turn out to be just like you in every way and your heart will break for her because you will know how hard it is to be so timid and shy and insecure.  Your second daughter, well, I’m pretty sure you should get prepared for a lot of calls to the principals office because she is the exact opposite of you and knows who she is and what she wants and is not afraid to ask it.  Believe it or not, you will grow confident and a lot like her.  So stop comparing yourself to the people around you, you need to stop worrying about them and let yourself be you.

So take a moment and go right now and look up the word advocate in that dictionary you asked for for Christmas.  This will become very important to you because that is what you will be – an advocate.  Technically you will become a librarian.  But the truth is, you will be an advocate for teens, for reading, for HG awareness, and for food allergies.  In your new found boldness you will stand up and shout because you will believe in these things and when you believe strongly in things, there is no room to be timid.  In fact, you will feel so blessed and at peace with who you become as a librarian that you will finally – to be totally cliche’ about the whole thing – find yourself.  Not that you still won’t stumble; you’ll just find it easier to put the pieces back together when you break.  Because even in the adult world, there is brokenness.  So remember that when you look at the adults around you – they are sometimes struggling too.

Oh wait, I’m not done with the shocking news.  It turns out, sometimes adults are right.  The adult me is just as surprised as the teen me.  In fact, you do kind of turn into your mother and you even say things like, “Do you think money grows on trees?” and “Do you want a time out?”  But you also become strong and confident.  Although you never do learn how to keep your mouth shut, which works out well for that whole advocate thing.  Mostly.

I know this next part won’t make a lot of sense, but in many ways you have more freedom as a teen than you will as an adult.  I know right now you are thinking you just can’t wait to grow and be able to make your own decisions. I wish you knew how much freedom you actually have right now in this moment.  Here you are hanging out at the mall with Beth and Kim and thinking you are so bored and you don’t realize how freeing it is to walk out the front door, pick up your best friend and walk to the mall to buy pizza and music and engage in hugely important debates such as who is the cuter Taylor in Duran Duran (always John by the way). There is a certain freedom in your teen years because right this moment, you have your whole life in front of you.  Before you lay a million tiny little paths and you can choose to step onto any one of them.  So make good decisions, but make sure you have fun along the way.

Karen as a Senior

Remember that each path you choose, you can get off of it and on to a new path if it turns out you made the wrong decision.  For the record, deciding to join the chess club because of that conceited guy, bad decision and huge waste of time.  Also, you will never be very good at chess and you don’t even really like it that much.  Also, that other guy, he is TOTALLY CHEATING ON YOU and – this is the important part – it has nothing to do with you.  He really is just a jerk.  Sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on.  Like I said, there is another path waiting for you.

If you don’t see a new path before you, grab a stick off a tree and scribble a new path into the dirt.  Don’t let the world try to determine your path for you; your life’s journey is yours and yours alone to take.  If you find yourself in the company of someone who wants to stand in your way, step around them not on them.  We must all walk in this world together, so although your journey is yours alone, respect the journey of those around you.  You slowly get better at this as you get older.

I know right this moment, you feel so scared and alone.  Let me tell you, there are some amazing people in this world and they will take the journey with you.  You will be blessed more than you can ever imagine.  Don’t get me wrong, people will still shatter you. But not all of them.  There will still be those moments when you lay in bed, alone, with tears streaming down your face but you will also learn that it is okay to ask for help, to reach out, to be open. The key to being loved is to love deeply and freely and with total reckless abandon.  You will learn your junior year of high school about the importance of telling people you love them when your best friend Teri dies, and you will never forget it.  Don’t forget to love.

Loving and advocating with reckless abandon,
the adult Karen

P.S. Seriously girl, that hair was a HUGE mistake. And I mean huge literally LOL.

Right after Karen finished reading Deenie by Judy Blume in middle school, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and was forced to wear a fiberglass corset for 4 years to straighten her spine.  The first time she had to wear it in public she vomited.  That same year she got braces one morning; at lunch that day she told a girl to mind her own business and promptly got punched in the mouth which is how she ended up at the orthodontist twice in one day.  I was rockin’ the head gear like no one’s business as I danced at my first middle school dance to Careless Whisper by Wham. I still stop every time that song comes on the radio and thank God that I never have to be a teenager again.  Be sure to stop by the Dear Teen Me website and share this awesome project with your teens.