Some Books Are… Important

Apparently I read books by Courtney Summers before parent-teacher conferences. This was never something I planned, but I read Cracked Up To Be last spring before portfolio conferences and here it is, the night before I spend 10 hours telling parents all about their kiddos, and I’m curled up with an ARC of Some Girls Are.

I stopped a third of the way into the book and sent her an e-mail: “I find myself terrified to stop reading & equally terrified to continue.” Then I paced the NTB for a full 30 seconds before picking up the book again.

When I came up for air the second time (it had gotten dark out and I needed to turn on the lights) I realized why this book is like a punch in the gut.

Courtney’s writing is honest. It’s vivid and so tangible it seems like you can reach out and touch the characters’ pain. Or maybe their pain reawakens an echo of your own. High school isn’t pretty, it isn’t easy… no matter how pretty the students are or how easy Those Few make it seem.

As I immersed myself in Some Girls Are I couldn’t escape connecting with the characters or seeing strains of myself in them – all those things that mean the book is well-written and absorbing. But, if you think seeing yourself in these characters is a good thing, you haven’t read the book yet.

Which is not to say anything bad about the book – it’s gorgeous and brilliant in its realism. Summers is, as always, my hero in her ability to show the things I’d rather not look at, think about, reflect on. She’s genius at it.

Thank God for her.

Read it…

…And remember those times in high school when making it from your locker to homeroom was too exhausting. Not because you were up late studying, but because you didn’t know what you’d find there.

Remember the time in bio freshman year when you flipped through a friend’s FiveStar organizer to write her a note and found the “Things I hate about Tiffany” list. And because you were too busy remembering how to make your lungs function, you just shut it and velcroed the tab across the cover and never read it, or confronted her, or did anything but feel guilty and wonder who else had seen it.

Remember the times when you weren’t the victim but the tormentor, because the guy you crushed on liked someone else, so it felt like your right to hate her. More than right, it was your duty. What’s so great about her? Did you hear…?

We were or are or will be part of that system. And as I turned pages and saw myself in those words, I marveled that any of us make it out unscathed. I wonder how deep the marks go.

And as I sat there wondering, my e-mail blinked with a new message. It was from My Court, the one of my high school days, not the one who authored this book. My Court had stumbled upon a blog I’d written back in April about life and high school and such.

Her comment made me smile. Made me remember the day we spent throwing handfuls of loose glitter at my bedroom ceiling, while laughing so hard we couldn’t stand up, and singing lines from “I’ll back you up” when we caught our breaths again. Some of the glitter stuck to the clouds we’d painted, but most of it ended up on us. We went out to dinner like that, giggling as we shook our heads and freed cascades of hair and sparkles.

It is a perfect memory. High school has those, too.

And on the nights when I used to lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling wondering what my future held and how I’d ever get there, I could see those clouds and smile.

High school is hard. High school is painful. But if you’re really, really lucky, you don’t just graduate with scars and marks, but with those perfect memories and friends who can look you in the eye and sing comfortably out of key:


Do what you will, always
Walk where you like, your steps
Do as you please, I’ll back you up

THAT is what I wish for all real-life Reginas, Lizs, Michaels, Jeanettes, Martas, and even the Karas and Annas. I want everyone to have someone who sees them with glitter in their, hair, paint on their face, in old, ratty clothing and suggests they go out to eat at the most teen-frequented restaurant in town. And I want them all to agree without hesitation– because they want to – because they’re loved, respected, accepted, and safe.

Everyone deserves that. If I could bottle it up and distribute it with hugs, I would.

Since I can’t… I’ll do the next best thing: tell you to read Some Girls Are (release date January, 5, 2010) and let it change you.

Brick

There’s a brick tied with pink ribbon that sits on the floor beside the bureau in my childhood bedroom. It was a gift from four of my best friends in high school. The same ones I met for lunch today and girls’ night in Boston yesterday.

As we settled into our chairs and rattled off our drink orders, the restaurant’s speakers began to play I Who Will Save Your Soul by Jewel, a song that came out in 1996, our sophomore year.
“It feels like I come back to Massachusetts and I’m back in high school,” I observed.
Except it’s not like that at all. When I came home last night the door was unlocked and the lights were on, but it was my husband waiting up for me, not my parents. And he wasn’t sitting there to smell my breath and make sure I hadn’t broken curfew, he was waiting up to hear my stories and give me a good night kiss.

Today at lunch we didn’t talk teachers and tests, Friday night plans and boys. We talked bosses and jobs, wedding plans and babies. But when the check arrives, we still pass it to the same person to compute the math, and we know who to ask to if we need chapstick. Fourteen years after we banded together as naïve freshman, we still know our places within the group – we’ve grown and matured, but haven’t outgrown each other.

The back of my bedroom door is now naked. Bare of everything except a small oval tile painted with a red rose and the words: Tiffany’s room. This tile used to be surrounded by collages made by friends, posters of Scott Wolf, Jonathan Brandis and Leonardo DiCaprio. Photos from dances, beach trips, and goof-around days used to paper my walls and frame my mirror. My bureau used to be buried below Bath and Body Works body splashes, tubs and tubes of Lip Smackers and the tiny paper triangles of intricately folded notes. The antique sewing desk where I pretended to study for bio and chem tests has been replaced by a massive table where my father stacks papers and tax files. My antique twin-sized sleigh bed has been upgraded for a you’re-now-married queen.

But the mural I painted the summer before I turned 16 is still on the wall. My ceiling still sparkles with the glitter thrown upon the painted clouds. The pink hoop-skirted, parasol holding doll lamp my father brought back from Paris when I was eight, still illuminates my bureau (and still sports the electric blue eyeshadow I painted on her at nine).

And there’s still a pink ribbon-tied brick on the floor directly inside the door. A brick from my high school, collected by my friends when our school was torn down and before the replacement structure was built. A brick tied with pink ribbon to remind me no matter how far I go from home, how much things change, and how long I’m gone, I still belong here.
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