Guest Post By Miriam Gershow, Author of THE LOCAL NEWS

Miriam Gershow, whose The Local News was discussed on Monday as EDIWTB's June book club, has written a guest post for EDIWTB today about why high school is a natural setting for her works. I was particularly excited to read this post, because of my own fascination with books set in high school. Thanks, Miriam!

Just like my narrator Lydia Pasternak in The Local News, this past August I had the opportunity to attend my high school reunion. In my case, it was a twenty year reunion, while Lydia faced her tenth.  In both of our cases, we met the idea with deep, deep ambivalence.

By all accounts, I’m a successful grown-up.  I wrote a novel.  I have a community of beloved friends.  I married a lovely man.  We have an extremely spoiled cat and a baby on the way.  I’m surrounded by all sorts of the adult accoutrements that signal having one’s life more or less together: a rotating spice rack, a semi-attached garage, a knife block, a mortgage.  So you would think the prospect of a high school reunion would fill me with glee or at least benign curiosity. 

But unlike Lydia, I skipped my reunion.  Just like I skipped the five year and the ten year reunions before that.  In fact, proverbial wild horses couldn’t have dragged me back to the crowded suburban Detroit bar where dozens upon dozens of my former classmates gathered.


Short answer: High school was hard. 

Longer answer:  It was achingly, crushingly hard.  I spent four years not knowing how to control my frizzy hair or my acne, nursing unbearable crushes on the most inopportune of boys, and walking the halls with slumped shoulders, hoping that no one would pay too much attention to my boobs (while secretly hoping everyone would pay attention to my boobs).  To say I didn’t fit in would be a radical understatement. I was brainy without being a star student, loud without being particularly charming. I had no business near either a curling iron or eye-shadow, both of which I abused regularly.  I was the girl who always had the visible line of foundation demarcating her jaw from her neck.  I was the girl who wore the off-brand imitations of fashionable clothing several seasons too late.  I was the girl who drank lots of wine coolers at parties because I thought being drunk made me at least ten times funnier and cuter.

And even as I approach 40, with above-mentioned career and friends and home and partner, I still can’t entirely shake that poor girl.  Some part of me remains convinced I’m still that gangly, ill-fitting, awkward teenager.  And that part of me runs wildly in the opposite direction when a reunion is mentioned. 

Interestingly, that part of me also regularly returns to those same–or roughly similar–high school hallways in my fiction writing.  The high school experience left such an indelible imprint on me, I now have an insatiable curiosity about the social jockeying, the thrumming insecurities, and the high drama that is so peculiar to those four years. 

The characters in my fiction are often teenagers.  I’ve never been a young adult writer, but I have returned again and again to young adult characters in my work.  One of my favorite early stories, Little Girl, looks at the burgeoning sexuality and the early stirrings of rebellion in a high school girl.  The Local News is rife with the shifting politics and strange insularity and group hysteria of high school life. 

On the most personal level, I return again and again to this setting to try to better understand and make peace with the gangly girl trapped inside of me.  On a more practical and writerly level, high school simply makes for great source material. 
The factors that make it so traumatic in reality–you’re trapped in a building with hundreds of other hormone-laden, erratic teenagers, you have no clear escape, you can’t imagine it ever ending–make it such a potent backdrop for fiction.  Teenagers are wonderful to write because they are so emotionally labile, but without all the sophisticated coping mechanisms that adults adopt to mask those emotions.  This makes for great drama.  The stakes are always high in high school.  The conflicts are ever-present.  You don’t even have to scratch the surface; the conflicts are the surface, whether those have to do with popularity, status, drugs, bullying, peer pressure or sex, just to name a few. 

I have real compassion toward my high school characters.  I developed great love for Lydia and all of her Franklin High classmates.  I vividly–maybe too vividly–remember what it was like to be 15, with little hope of things ever changing.  Over and over, I try to write my way back into that experience and out the other side of it.  Maybe I succeeded with The Local News because I’ve gotten the subject out of my system for now; my current project is a novel that has almost nothing to do with high school.  Maybe this means come my 25-year reunion, I’ll be ready to show my face.  I doubt it, but perhaps I’ll lock away the eye shadow and the curling iron just to be safe.


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