High School in All Its Glory – Or Not (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines, we're talking about high school: how we experienced it and how we write about it.

Note: I'm connected with too many high school friends on social media (and in real life) to go into TOO much detail on this. But you were all great! (Except for that one girl in the Dairy Queen Incident, who was an insane and vicious nightmare, and I didn't even know her.) No, really! The REST of you were fabulous!

I know this isn't true of everyone, but I loved high school. But I was happy to move on from it to college, and it's been years since I've relived it, although (1) the Dairy Queen Incident stayed with me for a Long Time, and (2) for years I was able to replay my basketball games in my mind move for move, but no more! And I still play basketball, although my moves up the lane now are much more sketchy.

This was definitely NOT me in high school.
But I would've crushed on Paul Rudd.

Loving high school isn't saying, by the way, that it was perfect. I had a mad crush on a guy a year ahead of me, and he never DID ask me out, although I know he liked me. (I will now try very hard not to relive this memory.) I wasn't in any cliques, in part because I'm not a fan of cliques (which my YA books will corroborate), so I didn't hang out with huge groups of people, but I think I got along with almost everyone. I was a big athlete in a time where it wasn't yet common for girls to be, but no one ever gave me any grief about it. I was a closet geek (if it's even possible to keep that completely in the closet), even though my favorite classes were Spanish and Phy Ed.

(In Wisconsin and Minnesota, yes, it's called Phy (rhymes with "shy") Ed, so TRY not to tell me I'm wrong, thankyouverymuch. In my YA books, I've settled on calling it P.E. or gym class, because wild horses couldn't make me pretend that "Phys Ed" is correct. Work through it! Love you! Thanks!)

In high school I mostly hung out with four other girls, but mainly one of them (hi Sue!), when I wasn't playing sports. In my most recent women's fiction novel, Seemingly Perfect, I recreated a five-girl posse mostly unlike my own but a sort of homage to it. None of those girls played sports, which was also true of most of my closest women friends in college and law school. I also wasn't yet into music, which seems crazy now, but I seriously spent most of my time playing sports. Sports are still my greatest joy, although music now ranks way up there.

So how do I write about high school in my YA novels? To be honest? 


Although I no longer replay my high school life, it's still right there inside of me. I still feel as if I'm 17. (Although my knees disagree.) And when I'm actively writing a YA novel, I am 17. I am the heroine. To make it even easier for me, my heroines are almost always major athletes, and they're kinda shy around the guys they have a crush on. (I got over almost all traces of shyness at some point in law school, but HOO BOY was I shy in high school ... except on a sports field or court or with my posse.)

I simply remember all the FEELINGS. Exactly how I felt, and what I did about it, and even how I would've spoken. Sure, the language has changed over the years. Like, "totally" wasn't a word I remember using in high school, although I vividly remember using it on a law school paper, which prompted my teacher to circle it in red ink and write "Valley Girl! Try again!" But my own kids are now in their early 20s, so I'm used to how they talk. Because of my YA novels, I probably talk more "teenage" than they do.

I'm currently working on a YA series, not yet sold, about a high school for psychics, and the heroine is a major athlete. A friend told me at the outset that I should just write a novel about, basically, myself. My husband laughed when he read the first manuscript in the series and said he couldn't tell where my heroine Becca started and I ended, or vice versa.

Mission accomplished.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.


Post a Comment