This Boy and the Myth of the Happy Novel by Lauren Myracle
My editor, annoying though rightly, has been telling me for the last twenty years that there’s no such thing as “a happy book.” Meaning, a book in which the characters just go along doing their thing, tra la la, without, ya know, having their parents get divorced or losing the love of their life. Or being ordered into house arrest because of the coronavirus. I always want my characters to be happy! Susan Van Metre always wants terrible things to happen to them. (She’s kind of sick, but I love her.)
I get it, I get it. The gist of her editorial guidance is aligned with the opinion of Tolstoy, who so famously said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Read: happy families are boring; unhappy families are interesting. And sure, I suppose that’s…more true than I wish it were!
Nevertheless, I wrote my latest YA novel, This Boy, with the specific intention of lifting up “normal” kids, regular kids, kids who aren’t from the get-go faced with SOME BIG PROBLEM. Readers want to see themselves in fiction (at least, I do), and sometimes, I reasoned, readers want to see the normal, everyday circumstances most of them confront. Because, don’t get me wrong, the normal, everyday lives of teens are still so insanely hard to navigate!
You know what I mean? Texting, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, that’s common currency for today’s teens, who broadcast their lives twenty-four seven of their own volition. Just yesterday, my fifteen-year-old daughter said, “Mom, when you were a kid, you didn’t have cell phones, right?”
“Babydoll, I didn’t have a cell phone until I was thirty,” I told her. (Yes, she was aghast.)
She processed this, and said, “Well, okay, I mean I really like being able to be in touch with my friends all the time, but I also think maybe it was easier for you. Because being in touch all the time? It’s a lot.”
Yeah, and adolescence was a lot even five thousand years ago when I was a teen. That’s why, in This Boy, I wanted to say to teens, “Hey, guess what, these small moments matter, too. All the choices you make, all the little decisions you land on, they are important, even if no one else seems to think so. You, reader, are important, no matter how anyone else sums up and judges your life.”
This Boy takes us through Paul Walden’s freshman year of high school through his senior year. It’s lean, it’s raw, it’s very boy. Readers will experience Paul’s ups as well as his downs, and—in the end—they’ll come away feeling affirmed. Everyone’s life matters, theirs included.
Lauren Myracle is the author of numerous novels for middle-grade and young adult readers, including the Internet Girls series (ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r; and yolo), the Winnie Years series, the Wishing Day trilogy, and others. She lives with her family in Fort Collins, Colorado.