Reimagining High School (Brenda Hiatt)

    Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the first hints of crispness in the air after a hot summer, leaves starting to turn…and new beginnings. That last one probably has to do with so many years of school, when the start of every school year was a new chance to reinvent myself with a new mix of classmates and subjects to study. Not that I ever did a lot of actual reinventing, mind you. Though things did gradually improve by the time I left high school, I mostly remained the bookish nerd shunned by the “in” crowd with only a small circle of friends. Still, every year I foresaw the potential for a whole new me! Exciting!

  For my Starstruck series, and especially the first book, Starstruck, I drew heavily on my own recollections to describe my heroine’s high school experience. In the opening paragraphs of that first book, I did my best to capture that sense of anticipation the new school year used to bring me…as well as the inevitable disillusionment that generally followed. Here’s how that book begins:


<< I boarded bus on the first day of school with a weird sense of anticipation. Even after nine years as the class dork, I couldn't quite squelch a fizzy little hope that this year would be different. 

Maybe this year Jimmy Franklin would finally notice I existed. I was fifteen now and marginally less awkward than I'd been last year as a freshman. Maybe I'd do something wild and daring, like, oh, run for treasurer of the French Club. I might even get elected, since last year they'd had to arm-twist someone into doing it.

The familiar sour-stale schoolbus smell—like old french fries that had been baking in the Indiana sun all summer, with maybe a whiff of vomit—took some of the fizz out of my mood. It was the smell of a dozen past humiliations. Still, I clung to what I hoped was a confident half-smile as I headed for an empty seat two-thirds of the way back.

"Wow, Marsha, nice blouse."

It was Trina Squires, of course—my nemesis. Trina was everything I wasn't: pretty, rich, popular, athletic. And we'd more or less hated each other ever since that bracelet incident back in third grade.

"Get dressed in the dark again?" she continued.

My best friend Bri, who had about fifty times more fashion sense than me, had picked out my outfit—a cute white cap-sleeve blouse dotted with tiny blue stars, and denim capris. I totally trusted Bri's taste. Not wanting Trina to think I cared what she said, I passed her before glancing down at myself.

Oh. Crap. Nice blouse, yeah—buttoned one button off. How did I not notice that before I left the house? Hitching my tattered green backpack a little higher, I tried to cover the neckline, where it was most obvious.

And tripped over Bobby Jeeter's foot, which he'd stuck out just for me. I caught myself—barely—before I went sprawling, but that didn't keep half the bus from laughing.

"You know, most guys gave that up back in fifth grade," I informed Bobby, grabbing my glasses before they slipped off my nose.

"What can I say?" Bobby shrugged, not the least bit apologetic. "It's still funny."

More laughter.

Trying to ignore them all, I pushed my glasses back up, sat down in the empty seat and started rebuttoning my blouse as inconspicuously as possible.

Nope, it didn't look like this year was going to be any different. >>


While that specific incident wasn’t my own (for one thing, I grew up in northern Virginia, not Indiana), the feelings certainly reflect how I often felt in high school! Hopeless crushes, the longing to be more popular… Yeah. That. 

Fortunately, by my senior year of high school I was beginning to embrace the person I was rather than the one I thought everyone wanted me to be. And I had a great time in college—though as an introvert, I still tended toward a smaller circle of friends. I became much better at emerging from my shell, and learned to enjoy new activities and perspectives.

For my poor heroine, things get a whole lot better (though with unexpected challenges!) after the first few days of what turns out to be a very eventful school year. In other words, she ended up having a high school experience a lot more like the one I dreamed of than I ever did myself. I think of writing YA novels as almost getting a do-over for what wasn’t necessarily a great high school experience. 

Isn’t fiction wonderful? 

Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning
Starstruck series, each book packed with sparkling romantic adventure!


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