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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Characters on the fringes are the only ones who interest me

by April Henry

When I was a kid, I loved books and the worlds I found there to the exclusion of everything else. I read while I walked to and from school (and once, memorably, ran into a sign). When I was ten, I asked for book - just books, only books, lots of books please - for Christmas. When my family went on vacation, I had to take one book for each day we would be gone. 

As a teenager, I was still on the fringes. My family didn’t have much money, so not only did I not have the cool clothes everyone was “supposed” to have, I often didn’t even manage to fade into the background. I still remember one cheap pair of shoes that I stared school with. (My parents could afford one new pair every fall.) When the thin piece of plastic over the bottom of the heel wore off, exposing the hollow within, I clopped all over school. (Some people still call me Pony.) I started working as soon as I could to earn money for clothes and college savings. Other kids went to football games. I served pizza to them afterward. 

Even as an adult, I sometimes feel on the fringes. I see women wearing lots of makeup, sporting heels that make me dizzy just to look at them, and with nail polish and carefully dyed hair. Meanwhile I’m dressed in my workout clothes and wear makeup a few times a year. 

Fringe characters
Maybe all these experiences are why my characters are on the fringes.

In Shock Point, Cassie finds herself shipped off to an overseas bootcamp for troubled teens. She is surrounded by dozens of kids from the fringes whose parents desperately want them to become mainstream. 

In Torched, Ellie is the adopted daughter of hippie parents who embarrass her no end - until she herself gets caught up in an activist cause. 

In Girl, Stolen, Cheyenne is blinded at the age of 13. Just imagine how much on the fringes you would feel if you were suddenly labeled “disabled.”

In my latest book, The Night She Disappeared, Gabie works in a pizza parlor named Pete’s Pizza (I worked at Pietro’s Pizza, so that old job paid off in a strange way). But even though I gave her the wealthy parents I used to secretly wish for, Gabie still feels like an outlier. 

A little secret
I think that deep down, everyone feels like an outcast. Feels like they don’t really fit in. Especially teens. Which is why we like fringe characters in fiction. 

4 comments:

  1. I never wear makeup or get manicures or anything like that, and sometimes I forget it's a part of daily life for many people. Then I remember I'm in the minority on that. But the nice thing about getting older is that I care less, and I also know now that everyone feels on the fringes about something.

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    1. I never used to pay attention to my nails. Now, I give myself manicures on a regular basis (probably a result of staring at my hands while typing all day). But I can't do the crazy colors that are so popular right now--the yellows, greens, etc. So I DO my nails, yet I sometimes think I'm on the fringes a bit for not following what's currently hot and trendy for nail color. How funny is that?

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  2. It's weird because I never think of myself as on the fringe of anything. I'm DIFFERENT but it feels good to me, not like I'm on the fringes. Maybe I've been like this so long it just feels supernormal now!

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  3. I'm a no-makeup woman, too. Saves a lot of time in the morning!

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