Aside from the suitcases of books, there were also bags of correspondence, early writings, and other random things. My adolescence isn’t that far ago, but I couldn’t believe how little I remembered of all that stuff, especially the masses of letters that I’d apparently exchanged with friends and cousins. I discovered with astonishment the dozens of pages written to me over the years by A., still one of my closest friends, about her holidays, her early romantic experiences, her dreams (pages and pages and PAGES of dreams), most of it extraordinarily detailed and intimate. It’s not as if we didn’t have the Internet at the time - yet apparently, we still feverishly wrote letters between the ages of 12 and 17.
Other letters emerged, from people I can now barely remember - yet clearly we must have been close, because they were full of specific remarks and questions and memories of things we’d experienced together, and constellations of hearts and smiley faces.
Many of these letters also mention things I simply don’t understand anymore, private jokes, allusions, a whole world of intimacy now entirely forgotten. Even with A. - I asked her recently, ‘do you have any idea who you meant when you wrote to me “I bumped into our favourite Blonde yesterday”?’ She couldn’t. But Blonde was, it seems, a character of some importance for our relationship circa 2000, because A. mentioned her several times.
My cousin wrote me a letter entirely composed of what must have been at the time our favourite private jokes. It must have been hilarious at the time. Now, it reads like a list of cryptic crossword definitions. She finishes by saying ‘I hope you understand this letter because it means it’s you who’s reading it!!!!’
Damn, seems like it isn’t me reading it anymore.
It’s good to remember as writers of young adult literature how little we actually remember of our own adolescence - even though we may have quite strong memories of something like a general feel, the atmosphere, of it. Maybe some people think of themselves as super-rememberers of their teenage days, but I doubt their confidence would hold, confronted with tangible evidence of everything that got lost along the way.
Or perhaps the real super-rememberers can only ever write the kind of literature that, today, would be anachronistic, fossilised, irrelevant to contemporary teenagers. Lost in the details, it would miss the transgenerational dimension of what it means to be a teenager. Maybe what allows us to write for children and young adults is just that: a loss of what our own adolescence exactly was, but a preserved sense of it was like.