The More Things Change | The HS Experience | Sara Biren


This weekend, I spent two hours in a long, winding line, waiting for a fitting room at a popular clothing store so that my daughter and her friend could try on Homecoming dresses. The game and dance are on Saturday, October 1. They’ve already made hair and nail appointments and dinner reservations for the group of friends attending the dance together. I was informed that we’d waited too long to shop for dresses, that some of their friends have had theirs since August, and that we’d be lucky if they got something they liked.

Fast forward two hours, eight dresses, and only one mildly insulting comment (“Mom, that dress is way too 80s”), and I got in another line with two excited high school sophomores to pay for their beautiful green dresses–short, strappy, and, I’m happy to report, affordable.

This will be my daughter’s second Homecoming dance, an opportunity to dress up and hang out with friends after the afternoon football game at a high school that is very big on tradition. I never missed a football game in high school (as a member of the pep band and marching band) but the Homecoming dances following the Friday night games were much more casual, and I never stood in line for two hours to buy a formal dress.

My high school experience in the late 80s and early 90s was vastly different from that of my two children, from technology to the ways they interact with friends (explaining busy signals and how excited we were for call waiting was interesting). But as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As much as the life of my high school sophomore looks little like mine, the reality of deeply felt emotions and learning to navigate a complicated, sometimes hurtful world has not changed.

When I create a world for my teen characters and write them to life, I start there. I remember what it was like to worry about an upcoming exam, to feel heartbreak over a fractured friendship, to tentatively step toward first love or experience the anguish of an unrequited crush, to look ahead to the vast, limitless future with both anxiety and unbridled enthusiasm. Many times, I’ve turned to my journals to relive the moments of joy, desperation, freedom, grief, love. As I wrote The Last Thing You Said, I revisited journal entries from the days and weeks following the death of a classmate, my heart breaking all over again as I read about painful moments I’d tucked away over the years. I put those feelings into the book, weaving them into the ways Ben and Lucy experience and confront their grief.

Yesterday, when I returned home from the HoCo dress shopping extravaganza, I walked to the mailbox and found a card, the address in handwriting I’d recognize anywhere–my longtime friend Kate. We met the summer after 9th grade at a weeklong writing workshop and became fast friends, even though we lived 30 miles apart, talking on the phone for hours at a time and sending each other letters and cards like this one. Nowadays, we frequently chat (and reminisce) over social media and have even seen each other in real life in recent years, but there was something so special, so beautiful and timely about her thoughtful card. I was filled with nostalgia and gratitude for that time in our lives.

I hope that someday, my daughter and her friend will look back on their high school years and remember the football games, the nail appointments, and the two-hour long wait for their complementary green Homecoming dresses with the same fondness and appreciation.


  1. I'm so sorry about your friend--I've gone back to those old journals, too.


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