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."

14 comments:

Katie said...

Ooo You're Goooood. I love reading these conversations you have :-)

Anne Spollen said...

Well, thanks, Katie.

I can't tell you how hard it is not to crack up sometimes when they and their friends talk to me.

Heather (again) said...

Hey Anne! Is the second ya book the cutting book?

Colorado Writer said...

I'm cracking up. These are the kind of convos I have with my 17yo. It's like a brief wormhole opens...they share...and then we become annoying again.

Anne Spollen said...

Hi (again) Heather. No, sorry, not the cutting book. I probably shouldn't have said anything about that since I'm behind on writing I've already been paid for...it's more in the idea stage right now. But that's ok -- no writer, anywhere, would turn away a fan of a book they've yet to write, trust me.

Yeah, Stephanie, that's it exactly. A wormhole, and they have absolutely no capacity to include themselves in any process they deem unsuitable. When I taught literature, they would write essays about "...those people who have flaws..." thereby excluding themselves.

But when they do get around to sharing, it's pretty amusing.

adrienne said...

Their conversations are amazing. I just love how they can sound so mature in one moment, and launch into utter nonesense in the next.
I'm also glad to know I'm not the only one with laundry in the dining room :)

Anne Spollen said...

I love the way they don't process stuff, yet perpetually feel the adults aren't listening. Of course, I was exactly that way...

And, yeah, that's the purpose of a dining room table on the off seasons of major holidays: it's a horizontal closet. Everybody knows that. ; )

Mary Witzl said...

I love it that your son asked why you signed that form for him! My 17-year-old wouldn't get anywhere near that film. She thinks the whole birth process is just too gross for words. Which is okay by me: I'd be really nervous if she was thrilled with it and couldn't wait to give it a go.

Our living room couch is currently festooned with laundry. Ditto the dining room table and chairs.

Christy Raedeke said...

God I love this post. You're so lucky to be living in a petri dish of teenishness.

Mary Witzl said...

I've come back to reread this and I laughed just as hard this time. Brilliant.

(Mary Witzl. Who can't get her URL up and running on the university computer)

Marcia said...

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.

Very, very interesting. And I love the conversation with your kids, as always.

Anne Spollen said...

I know, it is cool to live with teens because the dialogue is inescapable. On the down side, when I tried once to write an adult novel, everyone sounded about 16...

Teenishness...love that word!

Yeah, laundry. Bureaus are so 90's.

Nora MacFarlane said...

ROFL - I love this!
Laundry? I thought that's what the treadmill was for...

Lisa Amowitz said...

Oh..love it, love it, LOVE it! So true to life. Basically the only time my son really shares anything is when we are in the car. Lately I've been driving him to his finals (he is attending his first semester of college and living home) and it gives us a chance to talk. Eighteen is still a teen, but it's a little less like pulling teeth! To simulate teen guy speak I always use "whatever", a staple of year 17.

Girls are so different. My 14 yo daughter tells me way more than I even want to know sprinkled with snide comments that imply I am a total dork and understand nothing.