I was born in 1995

by Madeleine Rex

I am not under the impression that any of you are creating a timeline of my life or writing a paper on me. My purpose in stating the year I was born is to remind you that I am the teenager of today. Going to high school five days of the week, talking with and texting teenagers, and drowning in the glory of overactive hormones and a swarm of young people with the worries/sense of invincibility/insecurities we read about makes me an insider.

I know that adults are constantly saying things along the lines of, “I remember when I was your age…” but that’s not all that’s required to write a young adult novel. You might remember an event or experience, but you, admittedly, did not experience it in 2010 or 2009. Prom in 1988 is different than prom now, despite the fact that the major characteristics are the same.

Miranda Kenneally, who is still young, once asked me what kids my age call a record store. And I said, “Um… a record store?” When I read a draft of one of her books, though, I came across an instant in which the main character mentions seeing someone’s underwear. My eyes bugged out of my head for a moment before I realized she meant undershirt.

I can promise anyone my age would have spit their Sprite all over that page if they’d read that the main character could see the guy’s underwear while he was leaning against his locker. And the reader probably would have blushed, too.

There are little differences between generations. Even those minor differences can help loads when it comes to making stories and characters easily relatable to the audience (people my age). Sarah Enni posted about this last week, and made many great points. I commented and left a short list of things that have struck me as slightly off or outdated and a few things that I think many people would assume were before my generation but are actually talked about. Here’s the comment:

You’re pretty much spot-on, although I think a lot of people my age have a hazy remembrance of 9/11. I remember walking into the living room on the morning before my second day of kindergarten and finding my mother standing in front of the TV, eyes glued to a building going down. I think lots of people my age feel some sort of connection to it (though I could be wrong). Also: We watched the version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio in it, and girls *were* drooling. One person people bring up all the time is Justin Timberlake, but I hear practically nothing about him. 😀

There are a few things I see in books that don’t strike true (and sometimes my adult friends will come to me with questions as they write, trying to verify). For example:

1. We (meaning the people I talk to at MY high school) don’t say “cell”. Often, we don’t even say “cell phone”, unless we’re asking if someone has one or what we’re saying could truly mistakenly be applied to a home phone. Most of the time we just call it “phone”.

2. There are names that creep up in a lot of YA books these days that I hardly ever hear. It’d be hard to list all of them, but there are many.

3. People do talk about politics. And the economy. They tend to sound like they’re regurgitating their parents views (and they are often pretty liberal, at least here). However, people get really worked up over it. Even in middle school during the last election, Obama’s face and name were *everywhere*.

4. OJ is still brought up occasionally. Michael Jackson is still brought up all the time. And almost everyone’s seen Titanic at least once.

5. We sometimes mention Blue’s Clues. And Elmo. And The Cookie Monster.

6. We don’t wear skirts over jeans. Ever.

7. Don’t forget Jamba Juice! It’s not all Starbucks.

I realize that these details might seem insignificant, but they’re the ones that stand out to me as I read. Particularly the overuse of “cells” and the occasional character who wears skirts over jeans. I never see that.

Although I understand that particular characters are unique and might break a generalized rule, I wanted to make the point that the details do not go unnoticed by the target audience. It’s like being ripped out of a dreamworld when the reader comes across something that feels off. Suddenly, we’re distanced from the situation or character, simply because we’ve remembered that what we’re reading is fiction. It’s our job as writers to sustain the illusion.

13 Commentsto “I was born in 1995”

  1. Awesome post! You should sell your services as an Authentic Teen Fact Checker–it'd be invaluable!!

  2. JAMBA JUICE? Over here it’s Booster Juice. Sorry, more insignificant details 😀 Ugh — skirts over jeans? *shudder* Oh, and people @ my school say “cell”. Huh. You still talk about Blue’s Clues! Wow, even I only have hazy memories of Blue and Magenta.

    We could go on and on comparing stuff like this 🙂

  3. Great post, I completely know what you mean, even in YA books now, sometimes phrases or words just come of as… "old" xD I think it also depends on geography a bit, I can't think of many examples right now, but I know that style, dress, and speech totally varies with different places. Even my town compared to somewhere like Vancouver: they say "ballin and ghetto"… and where I live people never say stuff like that, you know?

    • We say ghetto! Well, we as in the people at my school. Not myself. Unless I'm actually talking about a ghetto. ;P

  4. As a 1994 baby, I agree with most of this. I actually remember 9/11 REALLY well, including my first real view of what happened. Maybe that's because I live in New York though.

    I don't agree with the underwear thing, though. I actually see quite a bit of teenage boy underwear during my day. Annoying, but true. And in my 9th grade English class, we watched the OLD Romeo and Juliet and marveled over the Zac Efron look alike. And I DO know what a record store is. 😉

    • No! I wasn't saying you don't see underwear, but that what she meant (undershirt) is not called underwear. They're too different things. Also, we watched the old one (Romeo is Zac's grandfather, I swear), and I was telling her that we do call them record stores! Sorry if I was unclear.

  5. Really great post hun, i like how you worded these, xx

  6. I haven't been on your blog in a while so I had a lot of reading catching up to do but I just have to say I love it! You write like some person who is really good at writing… you know like an author not like some teenager. I also love the quote you picked on the side by Simon! LOL:D I just noticed that DFTBA!

  7. Hi, I just came across your blog and I love this post! But I just had to say, my preschooler wears both skirts and sundresses over jeans!

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