Although my twins didn’t return to school until September, they had summer homework. And for some reason Labor Day weekend seemed like the best time to do a book report with plot graphs, essays on theme and conflict, and a hand-drawn color picture of the scene they felt best summed up the entire book.

While my son wrote about an underground prison where a post-apocalytic world sent teenage boys to fight to the death with zombies, my daughter announced she was going to write her own book. After all, it had to be easier to figure out your own book than someone else’s.


But keeping my sarcasm to myself, I asked, “What are you going to write?”

“A YA romance,” she said. “With a boy in the woods held by a witch.”

“So the Boy will be in danger? Sounds like great conflict.”

“Yes. Lots of danger. And the heroine will have to eventually save the Boy. Maybe. In the meantime, they’ll be thinking about each other. It will be very romantic.”

Not sure what she meant by “eventually” and “maybe”, I asked, “If the heroine doesn’t save him until the end, what will she be doing in the story?”

“Dancing to Just Dance on XBOX with her girlfriends,” she said. “And trying on cute shoes with lots of talking about the Boy. But thinking about the Boy is the best part.”

“The heroine doesn’t want to save the Boy?”

Cue the teen eyeroll.  “Mom, what would she do with him?”

To be honest, I have to admit I loved this answer. Still, she was writing a story and I felt obliged to help her fix the sagging middle. “The heroine could talk to him.”

“Ugh!” she said. “I have a brother. He doesn’t talk. Except to tell fart jokes.”

So true.

“Besides,” she continued, “the heroine likes thinking about the Boy. Just not as much as dancing or trying on shoes. But knowing he’s there in the woods, waiting for her to save him as she dreams about him–that’s what I like to read. I don’t need them to actually see each other.”

And the truth startled me. It had never occurred to me that a twelve-year old would be seeking out books for such a powerful emotional experience. I was so excited, thinking about all of the unread books she still had in front of her, but then I blew it.

“You read for the Longing,” I said. “And the tension the Longing brings to the pages.”

She handed me her pages and walked away. “Whatever.”

As the tall, skinny girl left in a huff, the big black blog of maternal insecurity sat on my shoulders.

Donald Maass defined micro-tension as “the moment by moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story, but in the next few seconds.”

And I wondered if Mr. Mass realized that definition applied to raising young teens as well.

I spent the next ten minutes reading her few pages and the outline, proud of the fact it included turning points and an inciting incident, knowing I could never tell her that without her stomping out again.

Or maybe she’d hug me. It was hard to tell.

But suddenly she ran back. “Mom! There are frogs in the pond. Let’s go look.”

As we headed for the pond, she took my hand and tugged hard. “Mom. My story. Is it good?”

I glanced down at the girl on the verge. So many things I wanted to say, so much advice I wanted to offer, but all I said was, “It’s good. Really good.”

She grinned, then whispered, “What about the sagging middle?”

“The heroine should dance with her friends and try on cute shoes.” Then I squeezed her hand, knowing things would soon change. “And I agree about the Boy. He can stay in the woods.”

So what was the first book you remember having an emotional connection with? Which book made you realize you needed that emotional experience that only came from reading?

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  1. Sharon, you were born to be an essay writer–as well as a novelist. This was so beautiful!!! I loved it!!!! You captured perfectly that wonderful Verge stage…and your pictures were awesome. Thanks for sharing. XOXO

    1. Thanks so much, Kieran. I appreciate it, especially as a mom who’s survived this stage and a successful novelist.

  2. Gayle Cochrane (@GayleCochrane) says:

    It’s hard being supportive and instructive. Lovely blog, Sharon.

    1. Thank you, Gayle. Yes, I’m learning that the hard way. And I have a feeling it won’t get any easier.

  3. I read this years ago and just happened on it again. Still relevant and lovely. I have bee going back to those books of my childhood/teenage years and re-reading them. Even compared to the last time I read them a few years back, my perspective has changed. They are not the book I remember. Perspective gives such an individualized experieence. I still love these books, but they will never mean quitte the same thing as they once did. A perfect book for the perfect time can’t be beat.

    1. says:

      I agree that the perfect book for the perfect time can’t be beat. And I’m always surprised when I go back and reread a story that I once loved that it doesn’t hit me emotionally the same way. Sometimes I wonder if our favorite stories are meant to be remembered and not re-read.

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