Monday, March 9, 2009
Why I Love Talking to Teens
One of my pet peeves about a lot of YA is that the authors don't get the voice right. And time and time again, when I ask teens why they stop reading a particular book, they say: "It doesn't sound like anyone I know. I don't know where these kids are from." The teens assume the kids live somewhere else and since teens are natural narcissists, they really want to see reflections of themselves. They don't think the author got anything wrong, just wrote about kids who live where they don't.
And, of course, the folks who write YA are all artifacts to teens, so it's not easy to conjure authentic teenspeak. I think one of the toughest struggles is that teenspeak is not predictable. Plus, it's a weird mix of little kid inhibition mingled with adult observations.
Last week, my oldest guy took four days of standardized testing. To fill in the time, he had to go to one class each morning. His was health. The teacher, not wanting to tax the kids, showed "the birth film" -- the kind of film with such biological accuracy you have to sign a permission slip to allow your child to view it.
Now Christopher never took health in junior high because he's a band kid and they have trouble fitting in electives. So not only had he suffered through three days of writing and math, on the fourth day he saw the story of human birth. I knew immediately when he walked through the door that something was wrong.
"So I saw that movie today," he said before the door was shut. (This is a kid who normally has to be plied with tacquitos and ice cream before I can even find out if he had a math quiz)
"Mom, did you know that more than the baby comes out?"
"Uhh, yeah, I did. I read that somewhere."
"That was absolutely...I can't eat. Why did you sign that slip? Do you know what I just had to watch? You have no idea."
"I have an idea."
"So does the guy have to stay, like when the wife has the baby? And like watch?"
"I sent Dad home to take care of you when your brother was being born. You had just turned two and..."
"So he doesn't have to stay?"
"I would say that's sort of up to the woman. It's kind of her show."
"But you could like agree before the baby was born that the guy doesn't have to be there, right?"
"Sure. You just check that option off when you're ordering your wife."
"Because I would pass out. I felt really far away when I was watching it. I had to hold onto the desk for a few minutes."
"Your father did pass out. And you were born in spite of him being on a stretcher for about an hour. He actually didn't see anything."
"Maybe I'll do that."
"So how was the test? You had writing today, right?"
"Decent. Why did you leave these pants in my drawer? They're from like middle school or something."
"There are clean pants folded on the dining room table. I just didn't get a chance to put them in your drawer."
He takes a sandwich and looks at me, "Cause these are so tight, I could actually feel my sperm dying."
"I heard that helps you write better."
"Gawd, Mom. It's like you don't hear anything I say."