Tag Archives: YA memoir

2015 book reads: Young adult memoir

2015 is the year of the young adult memoir. At least for me. Mine is finally finished and being shopped to agents and publishers as we speak. Which means I have to keep writing, and it turns out I have more to say in the YA memoir genre.

Because of the experiences I’ve had (sexual abuse, neglect, fun stuff like that), I tend to be drawn to books that tales similar to mine. I started off the year with A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive by Dave Pelzer, Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back  by Claire and Mia Fontaine and It Happened to Nancy: By an Anonymous Teenager, A True Story from Her Diary by Anonymous (AKA Beatrice Sparks). You can read about what I thought of them here.

Then I moved on to some slightly lighter fare (or at least less sex and drugs) with King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher and The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi. Those are detailed in this post.

Finishing up the first 5 months of 2015, these books made their way through my reading lists (from want to read, to reading, to read):

the lost boyThe Lost Boy by David Pelzer

This book is the second installment of Dave’s incredible journey from an abusive childhood into adulthood. Some of it seems a bit overdone but, then, I didn’t live this experience. After I finished the book, I read some interviews about the author that made me wonder–not about the veracity of the book–but about his ability to truly move beyond it. Telling these stories–and selling his books–seems to have become his way of life. But perhaps if it shines the spotlight on child abuse and the need for good foster families that’s OK. I’m not in a place to judge.

because i remember terrorBecause I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman

I was afraid of reading this book (which I read hard copy, as I couldn’t borrow a digital version–I don’t like to buy physical books as then I have to find a place to put them. Ebooks/kindle books I can keep a huge library of easily). I worried I wouldn’t be able to make it through it, or that it’d scar me. It didn’t.

What it did was help me realize the truth about some of my own experiences. I had an ah-ha lightbulb moment during the course reading of one passage that shed light on a memory that’s still half-buried. Plus, it helped me realize that writing about the trauma and abuse I experienced is OK–even if other people don’t want you to. It’s part of the healing, for me and for others.

the road from corrainThe Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

I looked forward to reading this book to learn about how she described her culture and country in ways that make it come alive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. It was dense with description and I’ve never had a head for reading description. I confess, I’m a skimmer until it gets to the action and the dialogue and there wasn’t much of that. So I put it down and returned it to the library.

look me in the eye Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger’s by John Elder Robinson

Why are we often so crappy to kids who are, for whatever reason, different and outside of the social norms and expectations? I like to think we’re getting better overall.

This is a fascinating book about the author’s experiences growing up with Asperger’s (although he didn’t have a diagnosis at the time). Parts were heartbreaking, others were truly funny. I saw aspects of my own personality in how he described his outlook and nodded along. Other descriptions of his interactions with people, especially how he viewed his own son at times, were possibly unintentionally hysterical. It gave me good insight into his mind and was a great read.

Not young adult memoir, but…

These books aren’t young adult memoir. I’m not sure some are even memoir, but I don’t think of them as strictly non-fiction, either.

let the tornado comeLet the Tornado Come: A Memoir by Rita Zoey Chin

Cheryl Strayed recommended this book and linked to an interview with Rita Zoey Chin on her Facebook page. So I bought it.

I’m not sure it quite fits into the YA category, but it’s definitely memoir. She tells her tale of growing up as a runaway, full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, alongside her current experiences of debilitating panic attacks that threaten to destroy the quiet, solid life she’s built for herself. It’s a well-crafted book full of beautiful language and intense experiences.


that bear ate my pantsThat Bear Ate My Pants! by Tony James Slater

This is an adventure travel non-fiction book more than a memoir, but it was funny and I heard my brother’s voice in my head the entire time I read it. The author reminds me a lot of him with his gypsy ways and love of travel to exotic places. I did that as a kid and am now happy with a settled, mundane life.

smell the blue skySmell the Blue Sky: young, pregnant and widowed by Valerie Willman

I know Valerie, she’s a local author and heads up the local chapter of Willamette Writers. So I was admittedly excited, yet trepidatious (apparently a new word)  to read it. What if I didn’t like it? What would I say to Valerie the next time I saw her (I told her I bought her book and was going to read it next the last time I saw her at an author lunch.)

Fortunately, I can email her and tell her I loved it. I loved getting to know her more and learn about her journey to where she is now. There were so many things that resonated with me throughout the book that I didn’t expect to. And the surprises were great.

on writingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Is this a memoir or a book about writing? Both. There are a few Stephen King books I’ve really gotten into–mostly the The Dark Tower series as a teenager. There are a couple of Stephen King books I’ve read that I wish I hadn’t, as the imagery has stayed with me (I’m impressionable. I should probably only ever read or watch things about puppies, unicorns and rainbows). Even if I don’t want to live inside Stephen King’s brain, I respect his ethic as a writer and ability to produce readable books that sell well.

This book was no exception. I enjoyed it, it was useful, easy to read, and I got something deeper from it than I expected.

small victoriesSmall Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

Oh, Anne. Sometimes I worry that Anne Lamott will come across as being too preachy (or maybe that’s really a worry I have for myself). But she doesn’t. She’s warm, earthy, loving, flawed. Like most of us. She takes humanity and our shared experiences and turns them into stories, finding the essence of what moves us. Maybe one day I’ll have that talent. And an agent.

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.