These YA Authors Give The Best Goddamn Advice For Teens
"Remember: the best person to fall in love with is yourself."
Last week, BuzzFeed attended the Hay Festival and caught up with some of the UK's top Young Adult authors on the best advice they'd give to their teenage selves. Here's what they had to say:
"Teenage Sarah was sensible. She wore practical clothes, didn't drink alcohol, and had no romantic dramas. Teenage Sarah read Virginia Woolf and wanted to be the next Jeanette Winterson. While her friends were kissing boys (and occasionally weird, older men) in local nightclubs, and her brothers were cheering on an ever failing Tottenham Hotspur, she was dreaming of university lecture halls and wearing very practical shoes.
The problem was that teenage Sarah Crossan didn't have much fun. For Christmas one year she received a mammoth French dictionary, so rather than eating mince pies and watching Mary Poppins (again), she spent the day translating her favourite songs and poems into French (as this was pre-Google Translate days). Oh, how rock and roll!
If I could talk to the teenage me, I would put my arms around her and tell her to relax. I wouldn't discourage her from working or being a pure nerd, but I would say, 'Sarah, it's ok to play – dancing and a bit of partying might actually be good for your soul.'"
2. Nicola Yoon
"I'd tell my teenage self: angst is good for you.
So much of my teenage life was spent fighting against uncertainty. So many things confused me. Was there a meaning to life? Was there a God? Was the journey more important than the destination? On a more personal level, I wasn't sure who I was or what I wanted to be. I wasn't sure of the world and my place in it. These types of questions really plagued me. I thought that if someone could just tell me the answers, then I would know exactly how to live my life. My life would be mapped out and perfect and I'd be happy.
In college, I adopted many different philosophies — Mathematics and Ayn Rand-ian 'objectivism,' most disastrously — in my quest to be angst free. It's only now that I'm older that I realize that it's the questioning that's the important thing. It's only through constant curiosity that we get to know the world better and ourselves. In asking questions, we define the world for ourselves. From there, you can act on what matters most to you and build the life you want.
So that's what I would tell my teenage self: angst is good for you. The answers don't matter as much as the asking."
Get a copy of Everything, Everything here.
3. Patrick Ness
"Write a book you want to read yourself. You, like most people, will waste too much time trying to please an imaginary reader, when what you'll find out is that they'll never love it if you don't first.
Also, kiss that blond kid in the eleventh grade when you're pretty damn sure he's giving you the chance. Not kissing when you can is the worst kind of regret."
The Rest of Us Just Live Here has been shortlisted for this year's Carnegie Medal and YA Book Prize. Get a copy here.
"The advice I'd give my younger self is probably a combination of things my parents told me – and I didn't listen to either of them at the time!
My dad always says 'this too shall pass' – and I think as a teenager I had no context, no awareness of ups and downs and that Major Life Dramas would ebb and flow, and things that seemed to matter so, so much, would soon be forgotten. Boys, fights, slights, gossip, crushes.
And my mother always told me, 'do it now while you still know everything' – sort of the same thing from a different angle! I'd tell my seventeen-year-old self: there's so much more to come. Yes, this matters now – and not to undercut how much it matters by dismissing teen angst as unimportant, but make myself aware that life is long and this too, whatever it is, shall pass. And it's all going to be OK."
Get a copy of The Square Root of Summer here.
"Be kinder to yourself.
You're a little weird. That's fine. Although you hide it well, you're a little angry. That doesn't make you a bad person. You feel like you're responsible for everything that happens around you. You're not.
Other people have their own issues going on. You can't fix everything. And driving yourself nuts trying to be perfect won't help anybody, least of all you.
You're allowed to want things, and to say so. It's too easy to lose track of yourself in the smog of other people's demands and expectations.
I hereby give you permission to be human and make mistakes. They probably won't break the world, and they certainly won't break you."
The Lie Tree has been shortlisted for this year's Carnegie Medal and YA Book Prize. Get a copy here.
"For years, I used to stay awake at night, until two, three, four in the morning, desperate and hollow with panic. The reason shifted, but it all revolved around the same basic question: What if no one would ever really love me? That was a pretty heavy worry for a young teenager.
If I could go back, I'd tell myself that just because things weren't happening right now didn't mean they would never happen. And honestly, an all-consuming love affair at fifteen? Probably not what I actually needed! So, Teen Kiersten (and any teen in a similar boat), it's okay to ask for help if you're dealing with anxiety, insomnia, or other mental health challenges. You don't have to struggle alone. It isn't a sign of weakness to go to those who love you – hopefully family, but also friends and/or trusted adults – and let them know you aren't doing well.
And, in answer to your desperate 3 AM question, remember: the best person to fall in love with is yourself, first, so you know exactly how much you deserve to be valued by someone else, later."
Pre-order a copy of And I Darken here.
"Choose friends who cherish your company, and relish you for being you. Those who deliberately make you feel less than, who put you down and leave your sense of self severely punctured aren't good friends. They have their reasons for behaving like that – reasons to empathise with – but friendship is meant to be mutual. It's not built from status games and snide comments. It should be something that occasionally leaves you dizzy with the satisfaction of another's company. Don't worry though. Keep going. You're going to find plenty of that ahead. Also, learn to relish your independence. Appreciating your own company will serve you well. On that note: I know that being single is frustrating, and you worry that maybe you're lacking something everyone else has sorted. But you are enough as you are. Enough, enough, enough. Continue being creative and curious. All that writing, reading, blogging, exploring, thinking, sketching – it'll serve you well."
Get a copy of Notes on Being Teenage here.
8. Holly Bourne
"So I don't want to tell you too much because I know how much The Matrix's 'There's difference between knowing the path and walking the path, Neo' messed with your head.
I don't want to tell you it will all be OK, because maybe, if you knew that, you would do stuff different and now would therefore be different, and that's not good.
So, here's the important thing to know: No pain is ever wasted. Even the horrid stuff, I promise, will become anecdotes. Most of them hilarious. Scars fade. Time passes. The world has this irritating habit of continuation, even when you're convinced it will end. And, the sooner you learn to laugh at yourself, the better."
Am I Normal Yet? was shortlisted for this year's YA Book Prize. Get a copy here.
"1. No one is actually looking at you. You think they are, you feel like they are, but the reality is they're all far too busy fretting about their own thighs/nose/bra size to worry about yours.
2. Don't stress about the fact you haven't kissed anyone yet. You will make up for this later on and it will be all the more fun for it.
3. Be a bit braver. Volunteer for that solo in choir, go on the French exchange trip even though the idea terrifies you, stick your hand up in lessons a bit more, ask Jamie Oswin out. The sky will not come crashing down if he says "no".
4. Your parents aren't as idiotic as you think they are. Be kind, they won't be around forever.
5. Learn to cook at least three proper meals (note: hot dog sausages from a tin do not count).
6. Don't let Anna Schwanz pluck your eyebrows. Twenty years from now, big eyebrows are the height of fashion and you will mourn your furry caterpillars at least once a day.
7. The braces will be worth it.
8. Above everything else, keep being your quietly determined self. Nice girls don't finish last, I promise."
The Art of Being Normal was shortlisted for this year's YA Book Prize. Get a copy here.
10. Dave Rudden
"I would tell younger me not to be so hard on himself. That to be a writer you don't have to have professor parents, or be English, or dead, that becoming a writer isn't scaling a mountain – a single, colossal task – but rather climbing a staircase. Incremental steps, one after the other, a whole life of tiny battles, some he'll lose and some he'll win, and both of those are fine.
I'd tell him that the worlds we love didn't spring into existence fully-formed, but instead are huge machines formed of tiny cogs placed one after the other, and it's okay to put the wrong word down while trying to find the right one. What matters is putting the word down in the first place.
I'd also tell him to not get the top of his ear pierced."
Get a copy of Knights of the Borrowed Dark here.
This is me; I mean you, from the future, well almost forty years in the future, almost 3 of your lifetimes away. What can I tell you? Apart from the fact that no one cares about records anymore?
You want some advice? Mostly it's about school and about mates. Mostly it's 'don't worry'.
See all those bands; go on your own if you can't find anyone to go with you. It'll be fine.
I know it feels as if you'll be at school your whole life right now but it does end.
And OK, that report the Headmistress writes about you that says you're a disruptive, confrontational and aggressive student and makes you cry in the interview when the Principal of the college you're applying to reads it out? It's OK. The Principal, one of those inspirational teachers you didn't think existed, believes you, not her.
And after college you get onto that film course at St Martins in the basement of what is now Hennes in Long Acre and you have the time of your life and meet some incredible people.
So hang in there. The world is waiting.
P.S. I do hope you'll think twice about wearing that dress you made out of a pillowcase."
The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo was shortlisted for this year's YA Book Prize. Get a copy here.
12. Jenny Downham
"When I was young, I'd worry that if I told people what I was really thinking or feeling, that they'd find me weird and not like me anymore. It takes years and much courage to be prepared to be yourself. I'm still not sure I've got a handle on it!
So, the advice I wish I'd had as a teen is: dare to be yourself. Don't get stuck trying to fulfil other people's expectations of who you are.
I also wish someone had warned me that there are people in the world who are very negative towards creativity and who will constantly try and drag you down and tell you to do something more sensible with your time.
So, my second piece of advice would be: fight for your creativity. Ask for what you need – be it time, or headspace, or peace and quiet, or a place where nothing gets moved when you leave it unattended. Demand to be taken seriously!"
Unbecoming was shortlisted for this year's YA Book Prize. Get a copy here.
13. E.K. Johnson
Here's the good news: you never have to go back to elementary school. There's going to be an awkward time later where you have no money and your mother tries to get you diagnosed with autism so that she can put your life in a box that she can understand, but you'll get through all that. High school won't be the best years of your life, because your life keeps levelling up, but it's a huge improvement over what came before, so I know you can handle it.
Working at the nursing home won't kill you, and neither will OAC Finite, even though you'll do both under extreme protest. You're a pretty decent person now, but you'll become a better one, which is probably the best news of all.
Also, there's going to be more Star Wars. And you're going to love every moment of it.
Kate at 32
P.S. Play the saxophone as much as you can. You love it, and it's hard to play when you live in an apartment, because it's very loud."
Get a copy of A Thousand Nights here.
"The main thing I would want to say to my teenage self is, 'Stop being shy! WHAT ARE YOU SO AFRAID OF!?'
I spent most of my teenage years afraid of talking to people I didn't know already. And, looking back on it, I really didn't know very many people, and none of them were girls. This is an appalling hole to have in your life.
I don't understand what I was so afraid of. My shyness ebbed away in my late teens, and now I can't understand what was motivating it in the first place. It is numbingly obvious that making conversation and being friendly towards other people gives you a better quality of life than shrinking away and not speaking, but for many years, I couldn't make myself do it.
Shyness is selective. I was entirely relaxed among close friends, and probably laughed more times per day aged sixteen than I have at any other time in my life. But I can't help feeling that I could have had so much more fun if I hadn't shrouded myself in silence in the company of strangers, and, particularly, girls."
Concentr8 was shortlisted for this year's YA Book Prize. Get a copy here.
15. Louise Gornall
"I would be forever reminding teen me that when unkind words are thrown in my direction, I'm the only person who can give them power. I spent a lot of my youth as a sponge, absorbing negativity/naysay/name-calling – my back was a bit of a weird shape (scoliosis), and I was pretty awkward. Okay. I was really awkward. Nervous, too. I didn't really stop to think that the people who were being nasty were just wrong/cruel/ignorant. Instead, I took on board all kinds of criticism, until my self esteem was black and blue and I believed that my body was some sort of unholy abomination. I believed that I was abnormal for a long time. It's only in these last few years that I've learnt words are just words until I define them, and chose how, or even if, they are going to affect me."
Get a copy of Under Rose-Tainted Skies here.
16. Melvin Burgess
"If we're talking about life, I'd say: 'Go on, you know you want to.'
If we're talking about writing: 'Just don't stop.'"
Melvin Burgess received a special achievement award at this year's YA Book Prize to celebrate his 20 year career writing Young Adult literature. Get a copy of Junk here.