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Foundational YA Literature, Babysitter’s Club Outfits, Abortion, Trusting Book Characters More Than People, And “I would stick a book in my pants to go to music class”

vanessa steck
 
 
do we want to talk about…i feel like we need a slightly narrower topic than “ya lit we read”
Terry Wright
 
Heeee. The second-choice name for our blog: “BUSY WITH YOU, BABY” or “GETTING BUSY WITH TERRY AND VANESSA”
Ha yes definitely a narrower topic. Shall we choose certain books?
ONES THAT WE’VE BOTH READ *COUGH*
 
vanessa steck
 
we could talk about books that shaped our worldviews
Terry Wright
 
Okay dokay.
One thing that trips me up a bit is that when I was a child I read a lot of “adult” books because I was surrounded by adults and adult taste and
I was trying hard to be Not A Kid because my adults did not like kids around.
vanessa steck
 
well that’s depressing
Terry Wright
 
So I read less YA than I think my peers might have?
Well it was okay!!!
Well, now, rereading what I wrote, it DOES sound depressing.
I think I really wanted entree into the adult world so I read adult stuff. And I wasn’t always happy to be a kid, either, so I did not do kid-like things or have kid-like interests.
 
Well now I am feeling sad for little Terry!
But my sisters, especially the one closest to me in age, gave me a lot of age-appropriate stuff that I also loved and devoured
but maybe even loved & devoured because it was from my sister and I adored her, not just I loved & devoured the literature specifically
but then again I read all the great stuff! Lowry, Blume, Duncan 🙂
So I think a lot of my feelings FEELINGS F E E L I N G S about children’s/ya lit is tangled up in deep affection for my sister. Hmmm
vanessa steck
 
interestinggggg
Terry Wright
 
And that shaped my world view in the sense that books could come into your life from certain people at certain times and become tangled up (in the best way) in feelings of love and devotion
and a desire to recapture that sense of wonder and affection and attachment.
vanessa steck
 
can you give me some examples?
Terry Wright
 
OH FOR SURE. ALL THE JUDY BLUME. My sister gave me a boxed set of Judy Blume books when I was…somewhere between 8 and 10 and I have a fierce devotion to the books and the people in the books and Judy Blume. FIERCE DEVOTION.
Blubber, of course. And Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. Those two for sure. And Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.
vanessa steck
 
SHEILA
OMG
 
vanessa steck
 
THAT HOUSE
HIDE AND SEEK WITH MOUSE
AFRAID OF SWIMMING
I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO HIDE IN A LAUNDRY CHUTE
Terry Wright
 
I KNOW. SHEILA. I think she needs a thesis of her own! So smart, so difficult, trying so hard
vanessa steck
 
the yoyo!
camp!
Terry Wright
 
OMG THE YOYO
vanessa steck
 
it is strange how YA book memories are so much more visceral to me than other book memories
 
Terry Wright
 
AHHHHH that is a really important thing–the visceralness of the memories. Like, I feel like I KNEW Sheila. Or maybe WAS Sheila.
Have I mentioned that I met Judy Blume and she hugged me?
vanessa steck
 
WHAAATTTT
Terry Wright
 
Also I wrote a book report on Wifey when I was in the 6th grade and my teacher was…bemused.
vanessa steck
 
yes how just completely almost physical these memories are
Terry Wright
 
I MET JUDY BLUME AND SHE HUGGED ME.
vanessa steck
 
like sheila was a childhood friend
and her hide and seek with mouse and the SLAM BOOK are things that i actually DID
I AM SO JEALOUS RIGHT NOW
Terry Wright
 
YES. I did not have many childhood friends so I wonder if that’s why I’m particularly attached to these memories of these girls AS friends?
vanessa steck
 
could be…i ALSO did not have a lot of friends and books were, um, my friends
Terry Wright
 
I think it’s part that I feel like they were my friends and part that I studied Blume’s books to see “Oh, this is how friends act. This is how it feels to have friends. This is how a ‘normal’ girl acts.”
Yes yes yes
Books/figures in books as friends. DEFINITELY.
Judy Blume came into the Borders where I worked just to autograph some copies of “Summer Sisters” and the Community Relations Manager actually took Judy by the arm and walked her over to where I was working/standing and introduced me PERSONALLY to Judy Blume and
NATURALLY
I fangirled ALL OVER HER.
vanessa steck
 
YES
studying normalcy through books
this failed for me when i tried to dress like claudia from the babysitters club
Terry Wright
 
10000% studying.
vanessa steck
 
since no actual human could pull that off ever
Terry Wright
 
Oh god taking fashion clues from YA books!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ahhhhhh.
(What does it say about contemporary kids who read dystopia/fantasy? They are not studying normalcy, are they? Is it a desire to be extraordinary? Hmmm. Maybe it’s a good thing–they don’t WANT to be normal. Hmm.)
vanessa steck
 
let me find an example of claudia’s dress
Terry Wright
 
PLEASE DO.
vanessa steck
 
“Now, where was I? Oh. Right. My autumn fashion colors. I’d put on a pair of baggy pants, not blue, not black, but yellow. With these I was wearing my red Doc Martens, laced with orange and yellow laces, and this great, funky, enormous shirt that I found in a vintage clothes shop. It has a leaf pattern on it. The leaves are in a Hawaiian print design, and the colors are fabulous. Underneath I was wearing my red and yellow tie-dyed long underwear shirt. To complete the ensemble, I had on earrings that I’d made myself, shaped like pumpkins, and a fringed yellow-and-white scarf tied around my hair.
 
Terry Wright
 
WHAT IS EVEN THAT OUTFIT
vanessa steck
 
I DONT KNOW.
“”Anyway, I wore the coolest tuxedo I’d recently bought in a thrift shop, including a silky, piped shirt and a bright red velvet cummerbund. I removed the shoulder pads from the jacket, which made it really slouchy (I love that look). Then I bought a pair of white socks with silver glitter. I decided to wear a pair of red sneakers to match the cummerbund. I swept my hair up and fastened it with a rhinestone barrette in the shape of a musical note.”
Terry Wright
 
Okay that does sound like the 1980s, though!!!
vanessa steck
 
my outfits did not work like claudia’s
so anyway.
“On Claudia, with the long black hair, dark eyes, and creamy skin, every look is a great one. [Preach it, girl.] Today she was wearing pink jellies, white ankle socks with pink hearts around the edges, and majorly baggy white overalls, cut off just below the knee, over a tie-dyed pink, green, and yellow T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She had a ring on every finger and one on each thumb, including a heart-shaped mood ring, a ring with a little bell on it, a ring that looked like a cat winding around her finger [see also: silver leopard], a baby ring with her birthstone in it, and a ring she’d made herself out of clay and beads. Her hair was pulled back into three braids, which were tied together at the bottom with a pink and green ribbon. She had on her peace symbol earrings, too, and a button that said ‘Jerry Garcia Lives’ in black script against a tie-dyed background that matched her T-shirt. She’d made the button herself in art class.”
ok i will stop now
Terry Wright
 
I totally have that webpage bookmarked now and must check it out.
But it feels like from a whole different era. WHICH IT IS. Ha.
PINK JELLIES
I never had jellies. EVERYONE ELSE had jellies.
vanessa steck
 
i had jellies! and light up sandals
pink ones
Terry Wright
 
Ugh this is bringing back really bad sense memories of high school.
I might actually cry a little.
vanessa steck
 
NO CRYING IN BASEBALL
LETS MOVE ON SWIFTLY
ok so we both read kid lit to study normalcy
Terry Wright
 
I had the worst clothes AND I wanted so desperately to dress like the popular kids and my parents wouldn’t pay for that stupid stuff (ha) and so I wore terrible knockoffs and now I feel so sad thinking of seeing me trying to hard to copy their purses and shoes
vanessa steck
 
oooo i just want to hug you
Terry Wright
 
OKAY YES. So, normalcy. So JUDY BLUME FOREVER. Paula Danziger for probably just the same reason, I think? Maybe more shy/not as cool kids, but still normal.
HUG ME
Man, I want to go back in time and MENTOR ME.
vanessa steck
 
OH YES PAULA
Terry Wright
 
And hug me.
vanessa steck
 
oh yeah i want to do that with me too
this place has no atmosphere! totally my favorite
Terry Wright
 
I can think of a handful of other books that I go through my sister that are the same–very realistic, totally contemporary, from a girl’s POV (a teenage girl, so, older than me), and “normal.” You Would if you Loved Me; Summer of my (the?) Sky Blue Bikini.
Some other book I cannot for the life of me find about a drug addict girl. NOT “Go Ask Alice” tho I read that too. Grr.
The Cat Ate My Jumpsuit! SO GOOD.
vanessa steck
 
god go ask alice was awful
so what else did you read that reflected reality?
Terry Wright
 
I think those were the ones. I remember those very clearly as “normal”. There is also L’Engle, of COURSE. MEG MURRY FOREVER. And Lois Duncan’s books. Man, I loved those.
vanessa steck
 
LOIS DUNCAN
i interviewed her for my senior study
WAIT WE NEED TO SLOW DOWN
Terry Wright
 
Still normal kids, though, right? Maybe a story about, like, astral projection, but really also about a girl navigating relationships and not feeling listened to.
 
WAIT. WHAT. YOU TALKED TO LOIS DUNCAN.
vanessa steck
 
via email only
but yes
Terry Wright
 
UM. THAT IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER. E V E R.
vanessa steck
 [here is the interview with Duncan]
Thank you for doing this!
My thesis is about what adolescent girls find in so-called problem novels (which, for my purposes, is basically any YA novel that discusses any of the four themes I’m using–sex/love, abuse, death and mental illness–that I feel like including) and I am using I Know What You Did Last Summer in the death category. So what I’d really like to know is this: what made you want to write about the consequences of accidentally causing a death?
I didn’t deliberately set out to insert a “message” into that book or into any other of my books. My motive for writing YA novels was to make them interesting and entertaining enough to cause kids to start to regard reading as just as exciting and interesting as watching television. But, as the mother of five children, several of whom at that time were risk-taking and rebellious teenagers, I felt very strongly that young people needed to think carefully about their moral duty to take responsibility for the results of their actions. So that message crept into my books without my consciously inserting it. (You’ll find the same moral in KILLING MR. GRIFFIN.)
I know that your daughter had not been killed when Summer was written; do you feel like your way of writing about death changed after hers?
After Kait’s murder, I no longer was able to force myself to create a fictional novel about a young person in jeopardy. How could I, when our own child’s real unsolved murder was all I could focus on? Prior to Kait’s death, I had signed a 3-bk contract for YA suspense novels. I already had written two of them–THE TWISTED WINDOW and DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU. So I owed my publishers one more. They were kind enough not to hold me to the time schedule that I’d agreed to. It took me seven years before I could write GALLOWS HILL. In the meantime, I was continuing to write–non-fiction, poetry, text for children’s picture books, etc. I was distancing myself from my personal pain. But I still had the responsibility to fulfill the requirements of that contract, and I did.
 When you think about adolescent girls who might be reading Summer, how do you think they’ll react? How do you hope they’ll react? 
The same as I had when I wrote the book — that reading is at least as entertaining as watching TV and that it’s important to take responsibilities for one’s own actions. No matter how many years have passed since that book was written, the messages remain the same. (And I hope those kids won’t watch the horrible movie, in which the script writer inserted an insane fisherman, who wasn’t in my book, and had him decapitate my characters. I had no idea they were turning my story into a slasher film until I bought a ticket and went to the movie. I was so horrified I couldn’t open my popcorn.)
i also interviewed chris crutcher and emily danforth. the internet is wonderful.
Terry Wright
 
Wow, that is FASCINATING what she said about not being able to write about a young person in jeopardy after her daughter’s death.
vanessa steck
 
i know
Terry Wright
 
YOU ARE AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m so impressed by you. I am not cool enough/brave enough to be your friend!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
vanessa steck
 
DUDE
YOU ARE AMAZING
so lois duncan
fascinating writer
gallows hill is one of my favorite
favorites
Terry Wright
 
So did you use the “original” book of I Know What You Did Last Summer? Because I think we’ve discussed BRIEFLY before that they’ve changed A LOT of the book, and not just “oh we have to account for cell phones” but even weakening the writing itself and making the girls more of sexual objects? Or am I imagining that?
I haven’t read Gallows Hill!
vanessa steck
 
it’s all salem witch trials, i LOVE THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS
Terry Wright
 
See, I have really narrow experiences with these authors. Hmmm.
OH MAN WITCHES IN GENERAL
vanessa steck
 
once i went to the library of congress to read the original trial transcripts
BECAUSE I AM A DORK
um i believe i used the new version
Terry Wright
 
BECAUSE YOU ARE AWESOME, I think you meant to say.
vanessa steck
 
but i had read the old version earlier
Terry Wright
 
I wrote a paper about House of the Seven Gables about all the coded guilt over what Hawthorne’s family had done to “witches”.
vanessa steck
 
nice
GOD DO WE HAVE A TOPIC
ok
lois duncan
supernatural
she’s like the early version of the fantasy shit that is kicking around npw
Terry Wright
 
What we read and why. How our worldviews (and maybe specifically our understanding of “girlhood”) were shaped by the books we read.
vanessa steck
 
but with more suspense and less bullshit
oh i have a VERY SPECIFIC EXAMPLE
Terry Wright
 
OH YEAH. I LOVE ME SOME LOIS DUNCAN. Stranger With My Face!?!?
vanessa steck
 
my understanding of abortion was LITERALLY SHAPED by “staying fat for sarah byrnes”
and to some extent my understanding of, um, god
Terry Wright
 
I still love Ransom
OH wow. I never thought about any of that! Huh. I’m trying to think now how I came to understand all that stuff?!?!?
vanessa steck
 
god and abortion?
well, in sarah byrnes, the main character is taking a class called Contempary American Thought, or CAT, with the awesome swim coach/teacher, Ms Lemry
Terry Wright
 
Yes, god and abortion! I think religion and god was just a total blank, a total non-issue for me, totally.
vanessa steck
 
and Sarah Byrnes, who has a really badly burned face (because it turns out her dad held her face to a stove when she was three but no one knows that yet) is in the class as is a right wing christian kid
and they have this whole debate
hang on I AM GETING MY BOOK
Terry Wright
 
Somehow I just grew up being “Psssh, obviously, pro choice, duh.” but I have NO idea how that came about. I never NEH VER talked about that stuff with anyone in my family. Maybe Judy Blume’s (AGAIN) Forever?
Okay so I have to read that book, obviously.
whoops sorry got distracted for a minute.
vanessa steck
 
OK SO
the asshole christian is named mark
and they are talking about abortion
Terry Wright
 
Holy moly it sounds overwhelming. Now I wonder if that’s one of those books that parents scream about being “too dark”/shouldn’t be in the library/shouldn’t be in the classroom.
vanessa steck
 
and sarah byrnes–you have to call her by her full name because she doesn’t want to wait for you to make the connection–tells mark to look at her and keep looking at her
and she says “are you telling me that if you knew you were married to someone who would do this to your baby you should have the baby anyway?”
and he says “that’s what i’m saying”
and she pushes it and he’s all “it’s not something i’d choose.” and she goes “it’s not something i’d choose either”
anyway
that’s a pretty firm foundation for me 😉
Terry Wright
 
So how old were you when you read it?
vanessa steck
 
hmm.
i don’t know…i have read it SO MANY TIMES. i am guessing somewhere between 11-14 the first time
huge window i know’
Terry Wright
 
Ha. And did it CHANGE how you thought about things, or, RAISE things you had never thought about?
vanessa steck
 
also a lot of foundational feelings about death come from patricia mclachlan’s “baby”
oh it changed it
i was all “NO KILLING BABIES” before then…i think. i mean i had no idea wtf i was talking about
but crutched showed me the complexity
Terry Wright
 
And were you raised in a particular religion?
vanessa steck
 
not really. we went to methodist? church i think–with the clintons,a ctually–but then i started having panic attacks in church sooo
my parents are liberal
Terry Wright
 
Did you discuss these topics with peers or family?
Or was it a private internal transformational thing?
vanessa steck
 
i don’t think so…not much. mostly i discussed it with sarah byrnes. we were LIKE THIS.
Terry Wright
 
Oh my god, what you just wrote is just beautiful!
vanessa steck
 
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL
Terry Wright
 
*pssshhh noooo*
Oh how’d I do that?
vanessa steck
 
YUP
anyway sarah byrnes is one of the clearest examples i have for me
Terry Wright
 
Right. As a kind of guide to…becoming yourself.
vanessa steck
 
yesss
and to opening up the world in a way that made it…make sense. or forced me to reconsider things because i trusted the book characters
probably more than people. i was the kid who read at recess. at least once i was so absorbed that i missed the bell
Terry Wright
 
“I trusted the book characters probably more than people” YES.
vanessa steck
 
OUR NEW MOTTO
Terry Wright
 
Oh I am the kid who read walking home from school.
vanessa steck
 
i have a lot of caps
oh yes
i still read while walking
Terry Wright
 
CAPS ARE IMPORTANT IN EXPRESSING OUR FEELINGS
vanessa steck
 
and i can’t eat without reading
or watching tv
Terry Wright
 
OH MY GOSH YES EATING AND READING.
vanessa steck
 
but yeah eating and reading
if there isn’t anything i read i get VERY ANXIOUS
Terry Wright
 
I would read the freaking cereal box when I was little and without something to read. I HAD TO READ WHILE EATING.
YES ANXIOUS YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSs
vanessa steck
 
i used to have to carry a book with me literally everywhere
now i just mostly do
Terry Wright
 
I’m still that way, actually
vanessa steck
 
i would stick a book in my pants to go to music class
oh yeah i read the honey nut cheerios box the other day
Terry Wright
 
One of the things I loved about Boston was it was NORMAL to read on the train or wherever. You were SUPPOSED to always have a bag big enough for a book and always have a book with you.
“I would stick a book in my pants” that made me snort laugh
vanessa steck
 
i think i thought i was being subtle
Terry Wright
 
“I would stick a book in my pants to go to music class”
that has a great rhythm/rhyme in it. I might have to put it in a poem.
vanessa steck
 
you should
Terry Wright
 
Hokay I will.
Wow I think we have a lot of…things tangled in books/reading. Learning from books, from the people in the books. Trusting the books, the people in the books, and I think in some cases by extension the authors, more than “real” people in our “real” lives.
vanessa steck
 
yup
Terry Wright
 
And as guides to becoming more ourSELVES.
vanessa steck
 
in large part because i think at least for me they FELT more real
 
Terry Wright
 
Even if sometimes it was studying how to be “like other people”.
 
 
Oh well disassociating.
That is still part of the attraction of reading, tho…
vanessa steck
 
for sure
vanishing happily
Terry Wright
 
GOD YES.
vanessa steck
 
reading hangovers
i find that i still am more easily absorbed by YA than by grown up books
Terry Wright
 
Yes. Wow I am really craving a book to vanish into right now! And, um, time. And solitude.
That is interesting. I think I would be absorbed by rereading my favorite YA books rather than engaging with new ones? But that might be because I feel very far away from contemporary teen life in general.
vanessa steck
 
yeah i always wish that i could read certain ya books, especially, for the first time
but have them still be perfectly like home
at the same time
Terry Wright
 
OH MAN. Is that not the biggest dream? Forgetting everything about a book so you can read it for the first time.
(Tho I did read The Hunger Games in like one day.)
vanessa steck
 
sounds about right
Terry Wright
 
(But I didn’t think it was very good writing. I just wanted to be In the Know. Ha. BEFORE the movies OF COURSE)
vanessa steck
 
yeah the writing is…not great
Terry Wright
 
Actually the first book of the Hunger Games was used in a college (remedial writing) class for several years and the students hated it.
vanessa steck
 
the STORY is good
i think
Terry Wright
 
YES, I liked the story, and I liked Katniss as a reluctant heroine. But I thought very weak writing.
vanessa steck
 
and i like the idea–i read once that harry potter and the hunger games are both about what happens when kids become symbols for larger movements
Terry Wright
 
They could not understand “dystopian” at all. Like…just really didn’t get what it meant. It was…frustrating. That’s a whole other topic!
vanessa steck
 
which i think is an interesting perspective
Terry Wright
 
Hmmmm. Tho Harry Potter had a destiny/fate? And he had an enemy from birth? Katniss just…stepped up at a crucial moment but spent the rest of the time hating every minute of everything.
vanessa steck
 
did you read the trilogy?
Terry Wright
 
The Hunger Games? Yah. I really liked the third book, actually.
(the second book felt like “Oh, uh, I will just…redo everything. Only…bigger!” And I felt it totally just made up new rules and that was annoying. Oh well.)
vanessa steck
 
yeah
but also, i think she becomes this symbol–the mockingjay–for a larger movement
Terry Wright
 
I think the political/philosophical stuff in the third book is great.
Yes for sure. But she did not WANT to. It was definitely thrust upon her.
Harry I think engages more directly. I mean, he WANTS to be at Hogwarts. Katniss wants to stay home and get food for her family and just be left alone.
vanessa steck
 
thats true
although you could argue that harry is thrust into battle in some ways
he doesn’t choose to be chosen/destined/fated
Terry Wright
 
Right for sure!
I agree they have more similarities that not. But I think he accepts his burden more…graciously? He comes to understand his importance to others even if he wants to just live his own life. Katniss I think always resists that.
And in a way he accepts a leadership role, where Katniss fights against the very people who want to make her a symbol even if its “for good”.
vanessa steck
 
i agree
Terry Wright
 
Wow do I have feelings.
Ha
vanessa steck
 
ME TOO
Terry Wright
 
Well YOU are very interesting and I think for sure one of our future conversations will have to be about you coming to the writing of a YA book when you were so powerfully shaped, yourself, by one/them.