As a writer of YA novels, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon; while I feel unusual compared to the people I meet in my every day life, I connect on a gut level with almost every other YA writer I meet. The only conclusion I can draw is that we share some kind of commonality. Something that makes us think about the same things. Something that makes youth more real and vivid for us than it is for many adults. Otherwise, how could we spend our professional lives so immersed in characters whose daily experiences seem so far removed from those of our adulthood?
Yet, we do, and in our midst there are those who recall it all with such emotion and such truth that we not only remember, but we feel it all over again.
Sarah Dessen is one of those writers.
From the moment I picked up my first Dessen novel, That Summer, I was captivated. I was captivated by the characters so meaningfully drawn that even something as seemingly simple as a girl who feels too tall, who feels lost in the life that adolescence has thrown her, felt painful and raw and somehow so… close.
When I read This Lullaby, I felt the pain of a young girl trying too hard to shield herself from life’s pain – and in the process shielded herself from its beauty, too. It reminded me that there are no guarantees. That no matter how old we get, standing at the edge of a cliff is still scary. And exhilarating. But that somehow, in that moment when you are standing at the edge with the wind in your hair, you wouldn’t trade it for anything.
And on and on it goes. Sarah’s work always leaves me with a profound sense of promise. Somehow, seeing everything through the eyes of her imperfectly perfect characters makes me remember all the joy and heartache and loss and love and euphoria that is life.
Not just teenage life, but my life, too.
Her writing is a reminder that it is never too late to stand on the edge of that cliff with the sky stretched out in front of you. To stand there and cry or scream or laugh into the wind.
And it’s a reminder that, even for me – a thirty-nine-year-old mother of four – it’s never too late to jump, either.
Tomorrow – Luise Plaja, author of Split by a Kiss.