The Thing About Crushes by Jenn Bishop
I don’t remember what was happening in the world that summer between sixth and seventh grade, but I do remember who I had a crush on. The crush was all-consuming in the way that crushes are when you are twelve and have literally no experience of romance except for how it is portrayed in teen magazines, Sweet Valley High paperbacks. and PG-13 movies you watch when there are no parents in the room.
His name was Jeff. He was new to town and he lived down the street from me, which meant we rode the bus together. He had dark brown hair and freckles and played soccer. I’m sure there was more to him. Of course there was. But to find out, I would have had to actually talk to him.
And no, that was not what you did with crushes.
Once you realized you had a crush, it took on a life of its own. Spiraling out into full-blown hobby, usually. (Some crushes fizzled, but those were rare and less memorable.) In private, you declared a crush to your friends, as if dibs-ing was how relationships worked. You crossed your fingers behind your back as you played M.A.S.H. on long car rides and kept the page when you got so lucky to be married to him (even if you had to live in a shack). The ones where you had 2,094,576 children, worked as a goat herder, and had to marry your friend’s little brother went straight into the trash.
In my new middle grade novel, 14 Hollow Road, twelve-year-old Maddie has a crush. His name is Avery and he lives down the street from her and he has brown hair and plays soccer. (Oops. Do you see what I did there?) Sixth grade is coming to a close and the kids from Maddie’s school will combine with four others at a regional junior high in the fall. To celebrate one last time all together, her school has an end-of-sixth-grade dance. Maddie is hoping that somehow Avery will ask her to dance. But instead, he asks the new girl, Gabby.
And then the tornado hits.
While they’re dancing the night away, a freak EF3 tornado barrels through the other side of town. Maddie’s home is destroyed. Avery’s is significantly damaged. Elderly neighbors down the street open up their ample home to the two families, and suddenly Maddie is facing her worst nightmare. Sharing a house. With her crush. Who just rejected her.
Cue all of the awkwardness.
As anyone who spends time with middle-schoolers knows, the world shrinks when you’re on the cusp of adolescence. You focus in on yourself and your inner circle to the point where you literally can’t see what lies outside the framework. It’s not that Maddie isn’t affected by losing her home and discovering that her dog has gone missing, but those things simply can’t remain at the forefront of her mind every day.
The smallest moments at that age can send you into a tailspin of insecurity and doubt.
When you’re twelve, everything is at stake. What are you supposed to do if you like a boy? What should you do if your best friend actually wants to hang out with the new girl instead of you? What if you’re the very last girl in your grade to get her period?
In the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of Skyping with classes that used The Distance to Home as a read-aloud. The kids are always curious about how much of the book is based on my real life. I feel almost like I’m letting them down when I disclose that, no, I didn’t have an older sister who died, and actually, I’m terrible at team sports.
But with 14 Hollow Road, it’s different. While I was fortunate to never lose my home in a tornado (though a freak EF3 did cross the street where I grew up, a half-mile from my home), I certainly remember what it was like to have a crush on Jeff. I remember writing him a letter from sleepaway camp, asking him out (because what better way to ask someone out than by letter when you’re hundreds of miles away). And that my best friend also wrote Jeff a letter asking him out, because that’s not awkward.
What I remember most, though, is what I learned in hindsight. I wish I had been able to calm my crushing tendencies just a smidge to see Jeff as a person, with wants and desires and interests of his own.
I wish I had been able to see him better for the friend he could have been.
Jenn Bishop loves visiting with classes near and far via Skype. She’s very excited to return to nErDcampMI this summer. Her first middle grade novel, The Distance to Home, was named a Junior Library Guild selection and a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book (2017). Her second middle grade novel, 14 Hollow Road, comes out June 13th from Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House. She lives in Cincinnati, OH. You can find Jenn online at www.jennbishop.com, and on Twitter as @buffalojenn.