Big congrats to Jennifer Hubbard as THE SECRET YEAR is now officially on sale at bookstores around the country!! Please be sure and pick up or order your copy as it is quite an amazing book, in case you haven’t heard.
And we have finalists for the THE SECRET YEAR Teen Diary Contest Extravaganza!
But first I thought I’d explain a bit about what went into my (ridiculously difficult) decisions.
Choosing the finalists was way more subjective than usual, even by contest standards, because there’s really no easy way to judge entries that varied so much – some seemed like excerpts from bigger stories, some seemed like they were meant to stand on their own, and there were so many different goals for what authors were hoping to achieve. It was also extremely difficult to judge these out of context: some may have been completely perfectly appropriate in the context of the story, but take them out and it’s harder to determine how well they may have fit into a larger narrative.
So please bear in mind that this was extremely difficult, and just because yours wasn’t chosen doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic.
The thing I love about Julia’s diary entries in THE SECRET YEAR is that they are completely in character. It’s not an epistolary novel, but they pop up at key moments in the narrative and hearing her voice is extremely powerful. Particularly since we know Julia is dead, it’s all the more compelling/poignant/tragic for Julia’s personality and voice to just leap off the page. There’s a vivid picture in the entries of a brash, forward girl, who also sometimes tries to stretch and use evocative words and images because she wants to be something more than what people think of her. So in choosing the finalists, I was drawn to ones that showed a unique, distinguishable voice, which was the most important factor in my decision.
I’d also like to be clear that I wasn’t actually going strictly for verisimilitude. It wasn’t a contest to sound most like a teen – it was a contest to write the most compelling entry. Just as with other first person narratives, I think the best entries give the illusion of a teen diary without actually making it sound completely literally what a teen diary reads like in real life (if you read my actual real life teen diaries you’d probably want to end yourself).
So if these end up sounding more eloquent than what most teen diaries would be like in real life: well, yeah!
Some random preferences/common themes/extra thoughts:
– There were a whole lot of teen rants, and I found that these were extremely difficult to pull off unless they were funny. There were quite a few that read, essentially, “This sucks! I hate this, I hate this so much let me tell you PRECISELY HOW MUCH I hate this, God have I mentioned I hate this?” Stretch this over 500 words and it’s extremely difficult to keep the reader engaged and to keep the character from being completely unlikeable, particularly out of context.
– There were also a ton of unrequited crushes, which, hey… I’m sure at least half of the ink produced in the history of the world has been spilled in teen diaries about unrequited crushes, but when reading many many entries in a row these ended up running together just a tad unless there was something unique.
– I found myself drawn more to ones that told a story rather than just providing scattered observations.
– There were lots of notes to selves, letters to dead people, and therapists/parents forcing kids to write a diary. Also pregnancy sticks.
– Some of the entries felt more like excerpts from a novel with a “Dear Diary” tacked on and didn’t provide enough of a sense that they were from a diary or unsent letter.
The honorable mentions, who I’m afraid just missed the cut of finalists but who done quite good:
Before I announce the finalists for real, please remember the voting rules:
In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until approximately 9-10 PM Pacific time TONIGHT to vote. Please not e-mail me your vote.
Anonymous comments are closed for the voting.
Also: No campaigning for yourself or for your favorites out there on the Internet. Let’s keep this fair. Please remind friends of this as well.
The grand prize winner will be announced tomorrow.
The five finalists are…………
Dear Pop Pop,
There’s sand in Nana’s hair. It’s the last time I’ll see her like this, on the beach, collecting shells, her blue veins showing through her delicate skin.
She stumbles and Mom catches her arm. Both of them laugh as waves rush up their calves.
Her smile still looks the same as it did when she was younger in the photograph Mom has of the two of you on the mantle.
Remeber the time you let me cast your rod into the ocean, certain I’d tangle up the line and lose your bait? Remember how shocked we all were when I reeled in a flounder?
The Outer Banks aren’t the same without you.
Now she’ll be missing from the cottage too.
But, she’ll be with you again. I can still hear the two of you laughing and playing cards in the summer evenings out on the screened in porch. Ice tinkling in your High Ball glasses.
We’ve taken care of her for you, and it’s almost time for you to take over again.
She’s looking down at her hand and twisting her wedding ring that she’ll never remove.
She’s looking forward to being with you again.
I’ll see you someday, Pop Pop.
Things I love about Jake: 1. The way his hair curls at the nape of his neck when it gets too long. It reminds me of water skiing in the third grade when his parents and my parents would drag us to the lake and we’d tumble through the water–he’d toss his head and send droplets into my eyes. 2. The way he hunches down over his desk, like now, when he’s taking notes and I’m writing this, pretending to take notes. I wonder what he doodles in the margins? He’ll get up soon when the bell rings. He’ll uncurl like a cat and that’s the best part about watching him. 3. The way he remembers my name in the hallway and says “Hey, Amy” even when his arm is around Brina’s shoulders. People are surprised we know each other. Him: a boy with torn-knee jeans and rock and roll t-shirts. Me: laced up science wiz. 4. The way he guides Brina into a room with his hand at the small of her back. When I see that, I feel the cold space of skin beneath my shirt and know his hands would warm it. 5. All the bits I’ve collected of him: his Grateful Dead keychain, his iPod (with earbuds), his essay on the Civil War, his cologne. If I lean forward now I could smell it on the cotton of his t-shirt, but that’d be too strange. Better to watch his hair curl from here. The bell’s gonna ring and, like always, he’ll unfold himself, turn around to grab his backpack, which has fallen on the floor–he’ll nod, smile his half-smile that ignites the dimple beside the corner of his mouth, say “See ya, Amy” and walk out of Mr. Timberly’s class as if we didn’t share a secret.
May 5, 1780
Full sun, unseasonably warm
I know it is an awfully uncharitable thing to think, but I cannot be in the room with Aunt Madeleine’s spoilt children for more than five minutes before I start to wonder if Swift’s Modest Proposal could be tested in our household. Perhaps this is why Mother protested so violently to Father allowing me to read modern writings, though I believe the primary reason to lie more solidly in her own inability to read any but the most elementary of compositions. Anyone knows that I am most conscientious to avoid prideful thought or uncharitable comparison, but I cannot escape the fact that my mother not only far less educated but less inclined to education than I. Regardless, I shall be escaping ever the more often to the library to escape Ophelia and Cornelius (are those not the silliest names you can imagine bestowing upon children?) as they will be with us for another fortnight.
Perhaps I am in a particularly foul mood on the subject of those children as it is on their account that I am being kept from the dinner party at the Greenes’ next Thursday evening. Mother thought it a delightful idea that I remain at home and watch the miniature terrors so that Madeleine could attend the party. I protested that my old nursemaid would be better suited to the task, but as she is now the plantation’s pastry cook Mother felt she would be kept too busy at her own tasks to properly manage the children, too. In addition, she felt it would be beneficial to my moral character and maternal instinct to watch them. Maternal instinct, indeed! As though one could feel maternal toward a pair of sticky-handed demons.
It is almost as though Mother knows that Betty Greene has been contriving to arrange dancing after dinner, and to provide her middle brother for my partner. Betty can think of no better amusement than match-making her brothers away to her dearest friends, hoping, I suppose, that she can eventually add us as sisters. It is not that I find Jerome Greene terribly appealing—he is too short, for one, and his red hair does not suit him—but it would be nice to dance for an evening like a proper adult. No, instead I am chained to a pair of prattling, screaming Lilliputians. It seems that everyone around me is permitted some acquiescence toward adulthood—my brother joining the Congressional forces of his own volition, Betty with her little dance parties. I must content myself with books, I suppose.
Oksana left today. Dad’s parting words were “Never believe a mail-order bride when she says I love you.” He was so chin-trembling, tear-stained-cheek sad watching her tear up our lawn that I wanted to cry just looking at him.
Oksana, on the other hand, was throwing her luggage around and cursing him in Russian. I wasn’t sure how safe it was for either of us standing by the living room window with so much glass around.
Dad always said she was different. I thought he was referring to the Belarusian catalog she came from, but his tears were genuine.
He whispered, “Sorry about the eggs.” This morning, Oksana accused him of deliberately making runny, undercooked eggs. It escalated to an accusation of salmonella poisoning. Finally, she revealed the real reason for the argument.
Dad and I both know that she keeps this house so clean you can eat out of the sink, drink from the toilet, and perform surgery on the kitchen table. And neither of us thanked her for it. I guess I stopped noticing what she did for us when I began expecting it.
Dad thinks she’ll come back. Every time she’s left us, she’s come home apologetic after the mall closed. I haven’t told him that this time is not like the previous ones. I saw her take the kitchen timer. Who takes a kitchen timer with them when they leave? People who move.
Just before she left, she paused in her ranting and looked at me. Her expression softened like she was going to cry too. Could it be that Oksana, the step-mom with the maternal instincts of a broom, was going to miss me? That’s when she waved good-bye to me slowly, three times with one hand, and got in the car.
As she backed out the driveway, I think I surprised her as much as she surprised me by mouthing the words “thank you.”
Dear Future Losers of Brookview High,
The world looks a little brighter when your head’s suspended in a toilet. In between the water swirling around your ears and your silent thanks that nobody’s taken a piss in the bowl this morning, there’s a strange sort of calm that comes over you. Mouth closed. Eyes open. Water whooshing ‘round a porcelain sky. The hell of high school disappears and for a moment, you feel at peace. Because you know, that for those seven seconds, life can’t get any worse.
But then the jerk holding your feet lets you down and you’re gasping for breath and the world comes rushing back. You stare at the bowl, water dripping down your face, wishing you’d been flushed down the pipes and spit out in the James (or wherever piss-water goes). Because the moment your feet touch the ground, your seven seconds of peace are over.
If you’re a loser (and if you’re reading this I guess you are), the best advice I can give you is gain weight. Fast. Forget the dollar menu. Super-size those fries, scarf down all the quarter pounders you can swallow and keep right at it. Because an extra layer of fat is the only defense against the jerk-wads of the world.
Sure, you’ll get the lard-ass jokes. But, take it from me, if you can gain a few pounds-or thirty-do it. I’m cursed with an ultrafast metabolism my mother would kill for which means no matter how much lard I shovel down my throat, my bony ass doesn’t get an inch bigger.
I’ve been stuffed in lockers, trash cans and believe it or not- a tuba case. And that’s not even the worst of it. Did you hear the rumor about the geek who went dumpster diving for his retainer on mystery meat day? Yep, that was me. The total dweeb whose locker was plastered with pictures of the Jonas Brothers? Me again. The dork whose underwear got sent up the flagpole with him in it? You guessed it.
So let me tell you, if you’re as big a loser as I was, plunging head first in a toilet bowl might just be the highlight of your day.
Thanks again to everyone who entered, and congrats to the finalists!
UPDATE: Voting is closed! Winner will be announced tomorrow.