Dear Teen Me from author Lisa McMann (The WAKE trilogy, The VISIONS series)

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Dear Teen Me,

This is a difficult letter to write. Thinking about my teen years makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. When I was invited to write to you, publicly, I almost said no. I didn’t want to do it. Because you turn out okay, and everything is fine now, and we don’t need to go back there, so let’s just move on.

But where’s the challenge in that? If I have learned anything about myself, it’s that I can’t seem to say no to a challenge, and that’s not always a good thing. So here’s some advice:

Maybe learn to say no to a challenge now and then. (Please. I mean it. I don’t want to do this. It’s really scary.)

Try not to be so scared all the time. You’re so afraid of embarrassing yourself, or appearing out of place, or saying something controversial and not having the conviction to back it up. Lighten up a little. What could be more horrifying than sneezing a bucketful of snot into your hand in English class? More mortifying than falling down a flight of stairs with your violin into a crowd of students? You lived. One day you’ll dare to tell these embarrassing stories to a different generation of mortified young teens, and you’ll be glad you found a way to feel normal among them.

About that violin. Newsflash: you never stop hating it. Nothing to change there. Just hand it off to your little sister at graduation, and until then, get through it. The upside—you’ll learn harmonies really well and impress a cute guy in college one day.

Things like these always lead to scary places. Teen self, I want to let you know that the tormenting is almost over. That boy who’s been slamming his catechism book over your head every Sunday since third grade? The jerk who ripped your shirt open at the basketball game in eighth grade because he thought it would be funny? His bullying is about to end. Abruptly.

And when it does, you’re going to feel so many weird and horrible emotions. Shock, of course. Disbelief. And guilt—especially guilt—because you’ve had all this anger and yes, actual hatred for him built up over years and years. You admit it, even though hating is wrong. And you think God probably doesn’t approve of you at all, even though you were just trying to survive.

When you go to his funeral, you will try to cry like the others, and you will manage to do it so you fit in. You’ll watch, stricken, as his parents can barely walk to their church pew without collapsing from grief, and you will stare, numb, mesmerized, and maybe even a little surprised by their raging flood of sorrow over a bully.

Their bully.

Their horrible asshole, jerkface bully, whom they love so much.

And you will feel so much shame for hating him.

You’ll struggle. Obviously, by the show of tears, there are people who love him; who saw goodness in him. Soon there will be tributes, memorials in his honor. A spread in the yearbook filled with kind words about him. You don’t know that boy.

You graduate, but he’s perpetually stuck in the summer before eleventh grade. As time passes, you’ll think maybe you didn’t try hard enough to see the good in him during the times he wasn’t smashing his book into your head. You’ll start to think maybe the things he did to you weren’t so wrong. You’ll wonder if maybe you were the horrible one for not being able to take a joke, or pour the anger out of your heart outside that church. You’ll even start saying nice things about him too, to make the guilt go away.

One day, when you have teenage kids of your own, you’ll be asked to contribute a story to a bullying anthology. You’ll almost say no because it feels uncomfortable and vulnerable. Scary. Still, you can’t turn down a challenge, so you do it. But you don’t tell this story. You tell someone else’s story. It’s safer, after all.

The thing I want to tell you, teen self, is that it is okay to have complicated feelings about the reason why you are no longer being tormented. It’s okay to feel numb, and it’s okay to feel sorrowful, and it’s okay to feel relief. It’s okay to feel sympathy for his grieving parents while feeling glad that he is out of your life.

But you do not need to feel guilty. His death, no matter how tragic, doesn’t mean the Sunday head slams never existed. It doesn’t erase the sound of his laughter when he violated your privacy and gawked at you in your little purple bra. Those inexcusable deeds exist. And they are burned into the time line of your life. Just like that funeral.

I want you to know it’s okay to be angry at a dead boy.

And, twenty-nine years later, it’s also okay to write about it. Stop being so scared. I mean it.

Lisa McMann is the New York Times bestselling author of the WAKE trilogy, CRYER'S CROSSDEAD TO YOU, the VISIONS series, and the middle grade dystopian fantasy series THE UNWANTEDS. She lives with her family in the Phoenix area. Read more about Lisa and find her blog through her website at or, better yet, find her on Facebook ( or follow her on Twitter (@Lisa_McMann). 

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