Well, it’s been awhile, but lately I’ve been feeling like it’s time to bring out high school Brenna again.
This particular excerpt is one of my first observations on a phenomenon near and dear to my fiction-writing heart: The attraction that the generalized “bad boy” holds for the generalized “good girl.” Yes, like so many popular motifs, it’s a cliché because it’s true. (And yes, we can make a case that it goes the other way, too—I just hadn’t run across that permutation yet.)
First let me say, I loved this dynamic. I looked for it. I kept tallies of it in the back of my English binder.
As with most of the things I liked that year, I was a fan for purely voyeuristic reasons. I liked the incongruity, the shocking wrongness that didn’t stop it from happening all the time, no matter how unquestionably you knew that it was not going to work out.
Before we begin, some background:
Although she has now been in public school for five months, Brenna is still new to this whole social-milieu thing. She is very much an ingenue, and is endlessly fascinated to find that she is now among people who smoke cigarettes in PE, light trash cans on fire, paint each other’s nails in homeroom, and are habitually unable to recognize when their romantic interests are completely inappropriate for them.
Unfortunately, she is also at her most cynical, complacent, and judgmental this semester. It is January, which is her least favorite month after November, and she hates being cold. But is. Both literally and figuratively. (She also finds, even now, that it is easier to speak honestly of one’s character flaws when using the third person.)
Jay is a minor drug-dealer and occasional bully. Sixteen-year-old Brenna hates sharing a lab table with him, because he sits across from her and does this thing where he licks his lips whenever they happen to make eye-contact. It makes filling out worksheets together very uncomfortable. On this particular day, he is clearly—to Brenna, at least—excruciatingly hungover.
Eenie is warm, cheerful, and generally oblivious. She’s not a cheerleader, but she’s friends with them. She smiles a lot and asks the kind of questions that have very unimportant answers, like she doesn’t want to risk cracking open a conversation where people might start disagreeing with each other. Brenna likes her, but often finds her confusing. (Eenie was much perkier than me, and also way friendlier—this resulted in me spending a lot of time trying to divine why, if she constantly had to cast around for neutral things to say, was she always talking? Later, I realized that this is what’s known as not being socially inept. Which is another post for another day.)
I’m in ICP* right now, where trains hit moose who happen to be standing there, and the moose don’t liquefy or splatter, but only get pushed back however many meters along the track, at however many meters per second because they are imaginary moose.
As far as I can tell, Jay just left to go throw up. Not because of the moose, since those are only imaginary, but something else. It’s loud in here and I can’t hear anything, so when he told the teacher he needed a pass, it was only his lips moving, but really, what would I need to hear him say? I saw him with his eyes closed, arms against his stomach, leaning forward. How when Eenie scooted her chair next to his, he straightened up, pressing his palms flat against the tabletop and faking a smile. [ some stuff about math ]
Eenie would always like for him to be paying attention to her. She sits beside him, flirting with her eyelashes and when he ignores her, she thinks maybe he’s playing. It’s so strange to watch. She’s so transparent that it hurts and she likes him so much and he’s a pretty-boy, sure, but not the way she thinks he is. He’s much worse. Jay selling drugs. Jay kissing girls. Jay, arms pressed against his stomach, taking short gasping breaths. Eenie, with her mix-and-match blouse-and-sweater-sets, her shiny Target sun-dress. What are people thinking?
Despite the dispassionate tone (the imaginary moose), I didn’t take this interaction as lightly as I liked to pretend. Some variant of it happened almost every day, and looking back, I think I wanted to be part of it, or part of something like it. I wanted to be normal. And at the same time, I wanted normal social interactions to make more sense. It bothered me that people were always picking things that were blatantly wrong, and then pursuing them anyway.
I wanted to point out the absolute folly, and also to get in on the action. I think we’ve just now—right this minute—arrived at the root cause of why I write books.
I basically spent my entire adolescence wanting to solve every problem and to live every life.
*Intro Chem/Phys, for those of you thinking insane clowns and horrorcore.
One of the things that make me fall head-over-heels in love with your writing, Brenna, is your ability to get into the heads of the characters and give us such deep psychological insights about who they are and why they are and why they do the things that they do. I’ve always wondered how you were able to do this magic. Now it’s clear. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Lesley! Even when I first got started writing, I really did care a lot about character. Plot . . . now that took awhile :)
I think you already were doing things with character that I *still* don’t know how to do.
also, this is HILARIOUS: “As far as I can tell, Jay just left to go throw up. Not because of the moose, since those are only imaginary, but something else.”
Did you KNOW you were being funny?
Did you KNOW you were being funny?
Short answer: yes.
Sadly, 10th grade was a miserable no-man’s-land where no one *else* knew I was being funny and just thought I was very weird.
It was the year of saying things, expecting people to laugh, and then . . . standing there in awkward silence.
God. Awkward and High School should be synonyms.
You may as well be speaking about me. LOL! I always fell for the wrong boy. Always. Still do. There’s something so exciting about the chase. The catching? Not so much. But trying to see if you can achieve that’s so obviously, as you put it, blatantly wrong is sexy and fun and disastrous. Good times.
I completely agree! It was like this game, where achieving the objective wasn’t even the part that really mattered. My favorite thing was how much strategy was involved (and yes, I may have been guilty of egging my friends on a time or two–I have to admit, I enjoyed supervising other people’s conquests).
I’m always nervous about sounding all geeky and fannish (one n, or two?), but I’m emerging from lurkdom to say I love your writing. You’re such a sharp and honest observer.
I’m not a typical YA reader, but I love good writing and I’m really looking forward to your book coming out … I hope you have a great launch!
Re: Hmm …
Sorry … me again. I’m totally NOT anonymously stalking you, but I think if me and Live Journal were stuck on an island, and my only way off was to figure out how to communicate with the outside world through Live Journal, I would die a slow death surrounded by coconut husks.
Re: Hmm …
Thanks, and I’m glad that you came out of lurkdom! Atypical YA-readers are fine by me :)
I love this idea about third person honesty. Lets see… Sylsome loves this post but hates that she has always been the good girl mad over a bad boy. There, I said it.
Well, perhaps Sylsome will be reassured to know that Brenna fully intends to get to the part of the story where she covets the bad boy despite her better judgment. It just took me longer :)
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