Feb 28, 2012

Guest Post by Meredith Zeitlin, author of Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Today I am very fortunate to have Meredith Zeitlin, author of Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters, doing a guest post about a touchy subject in her book: teen drinking. I must admit that I was surprised by the amount of drinking (and all the thought that went in to the drinking instances), but after reading her post I feel like I am more understanding of the point of view. Read what she has to say below & then see my thoughts on the book.


I think some people might be mad at me after they read this post.

Sorry about that. I really don't want to make anyone mad. But I also want to be honest. So... let's do this thing, shall we?

I've gotten a number of comments about the amount of drinking in Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, and to be totally honest, I'm completely surprised. I genuinely never anticipated a reaction other than, “Yup – I totally remember sneaking alcohol from my older brother when I was a freshman, too!”

Because I wrote a book that was based on my own high school experiences and that of the people I know. And without exception, those experiences included quite a lot of underage drinking. Not even because we all especially wanted to, really – it was just what we did. Like many things in high school. (And college. And, for that matter... adulthood. But lemme get back to the issue at hand.)

I think there are two things happening here. One is that minors drinking is, of course, illegal, so that gets flagged as a “bad” thing automatically. The other issue is that usually in books, “bad” things come with serious consequences.

But I wanted this book to be realistic. And the truth of the matter is, everyone learning something from an error in judgement just isn't how life actually works.

Kelsey and her friends do drink when they hang out – well, most of them do. Kelsey's closest friend, Em, never has a drink, and I made a big point of that in several scenes in the book. Because, of course, not all kids drink. But there can be a lot of pressure to, and Em's decision not to participate was important for me as an author and important for Kelsey as an example.

Kelsey doesn't even really like the taste of alcohol, which is why she prefers sweet drinks like wine coolers over beer. But she drinks it anyway. Because she's a girl who bows to peer pressure sometimes. She isn't perfect. She doesn't always make the best decisions. That's just her story. Maybe Em will influence her as time goes on. And maybe she won't.

I think it's very interesting that no one really has a problem with stories about high school seniors (I could name a hundred of them, and I'm sure you can, too) having crazy parties and getting tanked. But because these kids are younger, it seems worse. Well, kids don't just wake up as seniors and decide to have a kegger. They go to the seniors' parties when they're freshmen themselves and follow suit. That's... well, it's high school. And they try beer in seventh grade – or whenever – for the same reason they play spin the bottle. It's taboo. They aren't supposed to do it. And what could possibly be more appealing to kids who spend all their time consumed by their peers' opinions, desperately trying to fit in and be liked, than a magical liquid that makes them feel not only relaxed and confident but also part of a group of people breaking the same rule together? Is it any wonder that every social event in high school revolves around drinking?

When I was that age, any time anyone got together – at a party, at a friend's house, in a parking lot - the question was: “How do we get alcohol?” For a while, I was the Em in my group of friends – I didn't drink at all. And then I finally got curious and tried it... and thought it was gross. Then I tried it again and got used to it. Anyway, we drank. And sometimes we had crazy fun, and sometimes we acted like idiots, and sometimes we got sick, and eventually some of us – myself included – ended up in very bad situations that made us realize that, perhaps, getting wasted wasn't actually such a terrific idea after all.

But the fact remains that not every night of drinking ends in a fatal car accident or other tragic episode. It just doesn't. Kelsey does suffer some repercussions in the book – though since it's a comic story, I didn't choose to make anything too serious. And since I based the character on myself, and I really didn't have any truly negative alcohol-related experiences until I was a junior, that's the way I wrote it. Maybe in a different book I'll make a different choice.

I understand people not wanting to encourage kids to drink, and I don't want there to be any misunderstanding - I'm not trying to do that with my book. Absolutely not. But I do think it's an accurate portrayal of what kids do when they're that age, and that was my intention: to write a book that was as true-to-life as I could.

And perhaps a few kids will read the book and think: “Why are these kids drinking so much? Do I do that? I think I do, actually. Is this a good idea?” And then maybe some of those truly terrible consequences will be avoided. I hope so.

Are you mad? Please don't be mad. I love you.

Thank you Meredith! So folks, what's your take? Any teenage memories of drinking & general shenanigans? What makes this kind of thing "okay" versus "overboard"?


I Read Banned Books said...

I live in a pretty affluent master-planned community in Texas and I can I just drink. That is the least of troubles around here. I agree with Meredith, on all of her points. Kids drink, but not all of them. Not every party results in a terrible accident. I won't be the parent that lies to their kids and say that drinking beer is gross and only trouble will ensue. It simply isn't true. I'm honest and say that they are too young and haven't reached the maturity to make good decisions about drinking. Hell, some adults don't! My point, I'm a realistic parent. Do I condone drinking? Nope, but I know some parents do. My thinking and rational is just based in reality - this is the time when kids try stuff. I've read FRESHMAN YEAR and it is a very accurate portrayal of teen life. Maybe the book will bring an opportunity for adults and teens to talk about partying.

YA Bibliophile said...

My friends and I did not drink in high school but I know that we were in the minority. I was a little surprised at how easy if was for the girls in the book to get alcohol and how it seemed that, even as freshman, it was something they'd been doing for some time. It didn't seem to be something new to them. I'm not saying this is unrealistic or a bad thing. It just took me a minute to acclimate to that aspect of the story. I thought Freshman Year was a very authentic portrayal of high school life (drinking and all.) I loved the humor :)