Tag Archives: teen memoir

Still reading: Young Adult memoirs

In my continuing quest for knowledge on how to write a fantastic memoir, I keep reading other memoirs, particularly ones aimed at an young adult audience. Since my last post about what I’ve been reading, I’ve finished two books: King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher and The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi.

Both are good, and yet very different from each other in terms of writing style and content.

king of the mild frontierKing of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher

I haven’t read any of Chris Crutcher’s other books, but they’re now on my reading list once I get back into fiction again. I’m not sure if this book was suggested as a YA memoir to read because he’s a YA author, but I suspect I wouldn’t have appreciated this book as much as a teenager as I did reading it as a (somehow) fully-fledged adult.

It covers his growing-up years in Cascade, Idaho — a time and place I can barely relate to and am incredibly glad I didn’t grow up in — told through stories that are hilarious and heart-breaking. It’s open, honest and extremely well-written. I can only hope to someday be this funny and poignant.

the other side of the skyThe Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi

It took me a while to get into this book — partly because I read it in paperback (as opposed to on my kindle) and partly because of the writing style. It’s written as if Farah is telling you the story in person, as it is essentially the transcription of her conversations with Tanim Ansary, who was hired to help her write the book. Once I got further into the book, either the story picked up or I got used to the writing style and I zipped through the last half.

Overall, it’s a moving, eye-opening story about a young Afghani girl who loses most of one leg in a land-mine explosion and eventually emigrates to America with her mother, after losing the rest of her family in war. She is amazingly resilient and refreshingly innocent, even after everything she experiences.

As an immigrant to the U.S. I related to her experiences moving here: the overwhelment of everything moving so fast, the bright lights, the cars, all of the foreign Americanness (I’m making up words now) as well as the feelings of isolation and outsiderness.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any satisfying updates about her life today. She graduated from North Central College in 2010 (the book was published in 2006 when she was about 19), by which time she’d married and had a child. And in 2014, she spoke to a group of high school students about the book and her experiences, so she’s still alive and well, just without much of a public profile. It looks like I got emotionally involved enough to want to know what happened next, after the book’s conclusion.

Next on my reading list:

  • The Lost Boy by David Pelzer — the 2nd installment of his incredible journey (I clearly get sucked into these author’s lives and want to know more).
  • Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman — because apparently I’ve become obsessed with memoirs about the horrible things parents do to their children and I don’t want to sleep at night
  • The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway — I love reading about other places and cultures and am curious how others describe their countries in ways that make it come alive (so hopefully I can do the same with Barbados)

To learn how to write, read

Sometime last year as I was in the beginning process of writing my memoir (currently being called Irrepressible Spirit but likely to be renamed something like Stormy Paradise or Banned in Barbados because it sounds sexier) someone somewhere said something to the effect of:

While you’re writing a memoir, read memoirs. While you’re editing, read books about how to write a memoir.

Which is what I did. Fortunately, once I’d finished the intimidating first draft, much of what I read in books like Your Life is a Book: How to craft and publish your memoir indicated I’d done at least a half-way decent job. Phew.

So back to reading memoirs I went. (Well memoirs and books about writing non-fiction, publishing, and how to break into the magazine business.)

After recently meeting with an agent who expressed surprise that my book is written from the perspective of my 14-year-old self (the age I am at the end of the memoir) and after being stumped, in that same conversation, by the question: So what other memoirs would you compare this to? I decided to focus on reading YA memoirs, preferably told from the point of view of the teen in them.

Here’s what I’ve read so far, in the last couple of weeks:

A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive by Dave Pelzer
Essentially, Dave survives incredible cruelty at the hands of his mother, who targets him out of his other siblings (all boys) to do horrific things to. Through resilience and stubbornness, he survives. Fortunately, he begins the book by letting the reader know he gets out of his home situation, which makes it bearable to read the rest.

There are a few things left unclear in the book: how old his other brothers are for one. I think Dave was the second youngest but, told largely from his perspective at the time (with adult, I-survived-this wisdom) as well, that makes sense.

Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back (P.S.) by Claire and Mia Fontaine

Well, now I know what to do if any of the kids takes to the streets for a life of hard drugs and prostitution. While I kid, given my teenagerhood and the kids’ dad’s and the distance from which apples tend to fall from trees, it may be a good idea to be prepared.

I quickly became emotionally involved with these characters — relating to both the mom (I recognized some past relationship issues in myself) and the daughter (I’ve been a sexually-abused child turned teenager). I had to keep reading until I knew what happened. I found this an easier read with more likable narrators than Debra Gwartney’s Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love. Having the dual viewpoint of mother and daughter was interesting and refreshing.

Interestingly, the Czechoslovakian school Mia, the daughter, was sent to has some interesting reviews online (search for Morava Academy). Yet how it’s presented in the book seems inline with several New Thought philosophies that encourage personal responsibility and self awareness.

It Happened to Nancy: By an Anonymous Teenager, A True Story from Her Diary by Anonymous (AKA Beatrice Sparks)
 I confess, I didn’t finish reading this book. While I loved the idea it was a memoir told from the viewpoint of a 15-year-old, it’s clearly not. The story is predictable and it doesn’t read as true, especially when you consider the author has an entire line of teenage “true story” books for every after-school special topic: drugs, pregnancy, running away, Satanism, HIV/AIDS, rape. Yeah, OK. Sure.

What’s next on my reading list? King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher.