Well, I guess I have to admit this. I was a huge goody-goody in high school. The honors-and-AP-classes taking, do practically every activity in order to pad my college applications, love learning type. But honestly, I write for a book blog, so who didn’t suspect that just a little bit? But even though I was so busy, I really loved all of the activities that I did do. I swam for the high school swim team all four years, and even though I definitely wasn’t the best of the bunch (I swam on a year round team but still struggled to qualify for the end of the year championship meets), I loved every minute of it. Swimming allowed me, a lowly freshman, to enter high school and instantly have a dozen senior ‘friends’ watching out for me. I have fond memories of Friday afternoon swim meets followed by group pizza outings, after which we would all troop over to the high school football game to freeze in the stands with our still-wet hair.
I wrote sporadically for the school newspaper, but I mainly loved being part of the yearbook staff, and was the Assistant Editor in Chief my senior year. (Fun fact: my inscribed copy of our senior yearbook had the lovely typo of ‘Assistant Editor-in-Cheif’). One of my best friends and I used one of our elective periods to do ‘Independent Yearbook Study,’ aka “We spend an entire period goofing off, drawing on the Yearbook Room walls (we were allowed to do this, as each year’s staff repainted), and watching the movie version of Anne of Green Gables to swoon over Gilbert Blythe.” You can slightly see our lovely wall messages in this picture.
Starting sophomore year, I got pretty active in the music/theater side of things, too, and was involved with a few different chorus groups and the school musical for the last three years of high school. Even though I never got a starring role, I was quite proud of my featured vocalist role in Oliver! as the illustrious Strawberry Vendor. Here I am during rehearsal of Barnum, performed my sophomore year.
Even though I’m not very religious now, a huge part of my life in high school was our church Youth Ministry group, and I loved spending a week each summer volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. A huge group of us traveled to a construction site a few hours away, we camped out in a church basement and basically built a house–foundation, beam, insulation, painting and all. I am NOT very handy (hell, I don’t have common sense half the time–there’s a reason I’m blonde, and I often demonstrated this during high school), and these trips really increased my confidence when it came to basic household skills. Below are two of my best friends and I during a rare moment of Habitat downtime.
So I basically bounced between a bunch of groups. I was never the most popular girl in school (by far), but I knew lots of people. And my core group of best
friends stayed fairly constant. We dressed up as devils for the senior
year Halloween Dance, were all inducted into the National Honor Society
together (see below),
and did that “we live in a small town so what is there to do on Friday night? Oh yeah, let’s go to the ice cream stand that our other friend works at and hang out there all night!” Yep, we ate ice cream a lot. The benefits of growing up in New England.
Perhaps the funniest story about my friends is the fact that my best friend and I talked so much and so often that we somehow thought we had each told each other about our senior prom dress.
Needless to say, we did not.
When it comes to reading, I had not yet ventured into the YA territory that now occupies so much of my shelf space. Although when I was in high school, the YA market had not really been developed yet, not as it is today. I spent most of my reading time on bestsellers and classics. I think I somehow thought that since I was in high school, I should be reading ‘upwards.’ I read a lot of the ‘literary fiction’ that spent its time on the bestseller lists and read other works by the authors that we read in English classes. This is definitely not to say that I didn’t enjoy what I was reading, of course. I spent my time with Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, visited Manderley with Rebecca, and teared up for poor Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.
It’s strange to look back and realize how little I actually read back then, compared to my consumption now. It’s almost as if I went through a lull in high school, caught between my obsessive love of Sweet Valley Twins and The Babysitters’ Club in elementary school (along with The Fabulous Five, Boxcar Children, and Sleepover Friends, of course) and my fascination with chick lit in college. Which then led of course, to the mainly YA and middle grade reader that I am now. Perhaps I thought I was too busy to read with the furor that I do now. But I definitely still read back then; it was just that the books were more substantial, and took a bit longer to complete. And it’s amazing what I thought “busy” was then, as opposed to what it is now, where I’m truly learning the definition of the word. I even remember feeling so crazed with schoolwork my senior year that I may or may not have employed the Cliff Notes study method for such fine works as Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary.
But you didn’t hear that from me.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).