Monday, January 23, 2012


While many of the firsts in my own life carried with them a swirl of different emotions—excitement and joy and uncertainty and confusion and elation—one first has the power, even as I think back on it today, to bring back only one emotion: pure, 100% terror.

The first day of junior high.

Sure, it can sound a little goofy, now, to call it one of my all-time most frightening experiences. And, to be fair, I certainly faced firsts, as I grew older, during which I had more to risk, had more at stake, than I did facing my first day of junior high. But I’ve never been quite as frightened by anything. Never.

In some respects, I shouldn’t have been scared at all—my junior high was actually an extension of my elementary school. I was going to the same building where I’d been a student for seven years by the time I started junior high. But…my closest friend had moved away the summer before; we’d been friends since the second grade, and of course I felt a bit lost going into junior high without her. I was also just incredibly shy, and my heart would race at the mere idea of being in the midst of so many new faces, strangers, in such a new environment—sure, the building was the same, but lockers? Fighting hallway traffic every hour? Changing clothes for PE? It was all uncharted territory.

Gonna Party Like It's 1987:

Far right: me (in the penguin T-shirt) and my closest elementary-school friend (in the pink shorts) at my brother's birthday party.

Thinking back on it, I can still feel the nervous sweat breaking out and my legs going weak as I rounded the corner to East Hall that first morning, toward the science classes (my first class was biology). I remember what I was wearing (purple shirt, vest, shorts), and how I literally thought I would faint before I got to that classroom.

Long story short, I made it. No fainting. I even made it through lunch.

Surviving junior high is just one example of a first that makes me certain, as an adult, that I’ll figure my way out of tough or scary situations. Back when I was twelve, though, I didn’t have that certainty. I hadn’t maneuvered on my own enough to know that I could trust myself. And that’s what made that first day so frightening.

It takes serious guts to be the kids we write for. Because every single day, one of them is facing some first that terrifies them the same way the first day of junior high terrified me. And they don’t have enough triumphs in their lives yet to know for sure they’ll figure their way out. They’re just taking the plunge…

I so admire those kids. And that's a big part of the reason why, in addition to YA, I also write for the MG crowd. And I just feel so privileged to be writing for such an incredibly brave bunch.


  1. I had not been inside North Junior High since I had attended. Now I was going to the first parent-teacher conference for my own daughter at the same school. It looked smaller but it smelled the same. A mixture of kid and pastewax and lavatory soap.

    As we came around the corner to the 7th grade hall, I froze. My hands went clammy. I giggled a little I think and my daughter responded with an eye roll and a long drawn out, “Mommm!”.

    I took a deep breath and realized that this hallway, the one with the bent brown lockers and upside down mushroom lights was the very same corridor in my one and only recurring (to this day) nightmare. Terrified I would not be able to find my first class or any class...wandering forever and never remembering or finding where I was supposed to be.

    Amazing how a little FOJH (Fear Of Junior High) can last a lifetime.


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