She’s that girl. You knew her in high school. At least, you think you did.
Maybe you believed what everyone said about her. Maybe you laughed at her, taunted her. Maybe you helped spread the rumors. Maybe you started them. Or maybe you defended her, held out your hand when nobody else would, shared secrets with her. Maybe she was your friend.
Maybe she was you.
One of the questions I get asked the most about Firsts is why I wrote the story from Mercedes’s point of view — where I got the idea to center the book around That Girl, a girl who might not always be easy to like, the one who features as a cautionary tale in other books you might have read. And the truth is, it’s not an easy question to answer, because there are so many reasons. But a paramount factor is this: it’s one thing to hear about that girl and do nothing, to tell yourself that you can’t change what people are saying, that you can’t beat them, so you might as well join them.
I was tired of doing nothing, and I wanted to do everything.
Mercedes deserved her own story. Readers deserved to get inside the brain of someone not unlike the girls they used to know, or know now. The girls they were, or are. The girl who did something at the party. The girl with graffiti on her locker, the one everyone is whispering about. The girl people stick with one-syllable words. Slut. Whore. Easy. Short, ugly words, easily hurled, especially when everyone else is helping you lift the brick.
Mercedes deserved more than one-syllable words, so I gave her a whole book full of words. Splashed across those three-hundred-plus pages are her dreams and disappointments, her hopes and wants and needs, her confusion and sadness and regrets. She’s not always a good person. She doesn’t always do the right thing, or even want to. She makes mistakes, hurts people, gets hurt. Don’t you?
I get asked why I write Young Adult fiction, why I write for teens. There’s no one answer for that, but a big part of it is that while we’re only teenagers for a small portion of our lives, what we learned in those years — what we saw, heard, felt — carries into the rest of our lives. And the memories we live with, good and bad, are someone else’s reality right now.
When I write, I think about who I was as a teenager. Who my friends were. Who the girls at my school were. I want to give them all voices, let them be heard. If someone tells me my writing feels honest or rings true, that they resonated with one of my characters, I consider it the absolute greatest compliment. This is why I write. I want readers to be able to find themselves in my stories, to know they’re not alone, no matter what they’re going through. I want them to know that it gets better. That they are worth so much more.
Because the truth is, nobody really knows that girl, and sometimes she’s still finding herself. Sometimes we all need a bit of help knowing the different versions of ourselves and figuring out who we want to be. And the best place to help you discover that can be in the pages of a book, in the head of a character you can relate to.
I’ll never stop writing for teens. I’ll never stop writing about every kind of girl. Because they all deserve a whole world of words.