Life & Reading in High School: Kelly

I may be in the minority, but I liked high school. I went to a huge school — we’re talking my graduating class had over 1,000 kids — and because of that, there were very few cliques or other social issues that other people seem to experience. We were just too damn big!

I had very few problems in high school, though the first semester of my freshman year was very trying. The first week of school, I broke three bones in my ankle and ended up in a cast that required the use of crutches for the first couple of weeks. Imagine a school with as many students as mine had and trying to navigate the hallways on crutches. Not easy! But don’t worry. I didn’t let a broken ankle keep me from attending my first high school homecoming dance. This is a post-dance picture, and I’m posing with Buzz, the fattest cat I ever owned. Yep, my kitchen had carpet.

My best friend for a good chunk of high school was Melissa. She was a foul-mouthed, terrible influence and I loved every second of it. This picture was right before we spent the day at Milwaukee Summerfest and did something kind of mean to a group of obnoxious drunk kids sitting next to us. No I will not tell you what it was we did, but I will tell you we saw Lifehouse and 3 Doors Down (that was my first concert). 

Here’s a confession I’ve never told anyone, though: I once cheated on a quiz (and this was the only time I ever cheated on anything in school). And I have Melissa to thank for it. We took the same class one hour apart, and once in a while, the teacher would spring a pop quiz on us. But rather than grade those quizzes himself, he’d have students grade them. When we figured this out, she wrote down the answers to the quiz and slipped them to me in the hallway. I then copied them the next hour. I didn’t NEED them and didn’t NEED to cheat. We did it simply because we could. Okay, second confession: that same teacher kicked me out of class once for being a snark. Then weeks later when I was teetering on the edge of two different grades, he gave me the higher one because he liked my attitude. It later turned out the year I had him, he was having sex with another student and was charged for it my senior year.

I don’t think I fit into any particular “group” in school. I floated among a lot of different social groups. I was heavily involved in my school’s newspaper, the school band my freshman and sophomore year (first playing flute, then playing tenor sax which was nearly as big as my 5’1 self!), and I played badminton. Yes, badminton.

In Illinois, where I went to school, badminton was an interscholastic sport, not just a backyard activity. Our season lasted for the bulk of the second semester of school. I played both singles and doubles, though I specialized in doubles. My partner Ashleigh and I even took home a medal our junior year for placing second in one of the big matches (that’s the picture in black and white). We made it to semi-finals for state that year, too.

The first and second picture showcase my braces, too. Most of junior high and much of high school for me involved almost non-stop orthodontic trips. I can say with authority that anyone who only had braces got out of their teen years easily. This was the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced (but let me tell you how grateful I am for it now).

I never worried about fitting into a certain style, though I look back at some of the things I wore or did and wonder what I was thinking.

I used to carry a lunchbox instead of a purse, as you can see in the top photo. The middle photo was from one of my favorite high school activities: going to White Sox baseball games. Melissa’s mom worked for them, and she always hooked us up with fancy pants tickets and free food. The catch was we’d end up sitting in the field parking lot for 4 or 5 hours before game time. The last photo doesn’t even make sense to me. I think it was dress weird day. I think the bikini top over a striped shirt with my mother’s work vest qualified as weird.

My musical tastes ranged from Reel Big Fish to Dave Matthews and Blink 182 my freshman and sophomore years, and then I moved onto Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, and a slew of male acoustic singers. Being that I lived fairly close to Chicago, when I was a junior and senior, I was able to get out more and go to live shows. I had the chance to see Tori Amos, Howie Day, Ari Hest, Lenny Kravitz, Pink, and, as pictured above, Matt Nathanson — I think I saw him 7 or 8 times in high school. Loved (and still love) his music, but the banter is where it’s at.

Junior year I took my first job, working at a Hallmark store. It was a good experience, though it wasn’t ideal. When I had the chance to apply for a page job at the local library, I took it and interviewed. But, I didn’t get the job. I was bummed about losing out on the opportunity since it would have been great. That was in November. A couple of months later, I got a phone call out of the blue from the library offering me a page job because the person they’d originally hired wasn’t working out. I spent the second half a junior year through August after I graduated working my way from page to tech services. I loved it.

Here’s my mom and I on my graduation day! I was so tired because we’d had practice in the morning and I just wanted it over. Random fact: I didn’t go to prom. I was going to go with my best guy friend, but after we crunched the numbers, we decided we’d instead have his dad take us to a White Sox game and treat us to tons of hot chocolate and baseball with a fireworks show after. I do not regret a thing, despite what all of my co-workers said (all were convinced I would be sad about this down the road, and here I am, almost 10 years later, and I’m still not regretting it).

When it came to the whole life-after-high-school thing, let me tell you how my college selection stress went. I spent the night at a college in Iowa that sounded cool because it didn’t have a traditional schedule (you did one class at a time, instead of 3 or 4 over a semester). That night, I met a lot of fun people and broke a lot of rules. I put in an application when I got home, got accepted, and decided that was good enough. I could have probably gotten into a lot of schools (if I may brag, I was ranked 7th out of over 1,000 kids academically) but really, I was lazy. And I liked my sanity. It ended up being a good school for me socially, even if it didn’t challenge me a whole lot academically.

The other thing I spent a lot of time doing in high school was reading and writing. I worked on the school’s newspaper and wrote not only news and feature stories, but I wrote a lot of book reviews. I also worked for a forum on AOL called I Was a Teenage Writer. I can’t explain how much this community influenced me not only then but continues to influence me now. Many of the people I met through writing there are people I still talk to now. We all grew up with each other, and we continue growing with one another. It’s bizarre and comforting at the same time. Without doubt, it was through IWTW I developed my passion for talking about reading! A bunch of us not only talked on the forum about books, but we kept LiveJournals and wrote about the books we were reading (yessss, I was one of those kids who had a blog back in 2001 and STILL goes back and reads through it and cringes once in a while — the internet never forgets!). Talking books has been in my blood for a long time. Which brings me to the real point of these posts — what I was reading in high school.

I went through a huge Stephen King phase. But of all the King I read, I remember loving Rose Madder and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon pretty hard. I haven’t read King since high school, but I’ve always harbored the interest in rereading these two titles since they stick out to me so much from that period of my life.

Two of my favorite books in high school were Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate and Kamala Markandayas Nectar in a Sieve. I read both on my own for fun, not for a class. I loved the cultural influences of both titles. I think Esquivel’s novel might have been my first real experience with magical realism, a genre I really like.

Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World was the first “big” book I read. It’s a long story that I remember as little more than a long discourse on philosophy and philosophers. I hated every second of reading it (again, one I read of my own free will for fun) but I refused to give it up because it was such an investment.

I was a bit of an Oprah reader! This was before her reading club went crazy. I remember picking up and falling in love with Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone and I believe I read this sucker three or four times. Dolores was a trouper throughout all of the crap coming through her life, and I remember really liking her, despite her not always being the most likable of characters.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was a book I picked up only after devouring plenty of her poetry. And as much as people loved this book, I simply liked it. I much preferred Plath as a poet as opposed to a novelist.  

If I had to pick one favorite from high school, it would be Jane Mendelsohn’s Innocence. I haven’t read it since and I keep forgetting to bring it back from my mom’s house whenever I’m there because I think it’ll still have the power it did. This is a story about a teenage girl in New York City feeling like an outsider in the social world. It’s told through a less conventional narrative style, with broken snippets and snatches of story (rather than more fluid prose). I remember it being pretty dark and I remember this being my first real experience with magical realism. It’s funny now looking back at high school reading and seeing the themes that still resonate with me as an adult.

I mentioned IWTW playing a huge role in my reading in high school, and I remember specifically picking up Sapphire’s Push on a recommendation from more than one person I worked with there. I fell in love with this story: it was heart-wrenching and painful to read. I would make the statement it may have been the first contemporary, dark book I read. Even though it was marketed as an adult novel, it read so much like a teen novel.

Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts was also one of those reads I had in high school that was marketed for the adult audience, even though it reads like a teen novel. This still remains one of my favorite stories, and I will always see a bit of myself in Jessica Darling. Have you ever read a series where the characters are the exact same age and in very similar spots in life as yourself? That was this series for me. Jessica’s 16 when this book starts, and I read it right after I turned 16. I related to her on so many levels, even through to her finishing college and navigating the working world in Perfect Fifths.

When I started high school, and even when I graduated, the YA market was pretty tiny. But there was this little book by Laurie Halse Anderson called Speak. You bet I read it when it came out and you bet I still remember how powerful it is.

I won’t lie: I was one of those kids who read every single book assigned in high school. I fell in love with the traditional classics and read a ton of them on my own. But rather than list all of those, I thought I’d talk about the one book — the only book — I never finished reading in school.

I read every other Dickens novel I was assigned in high school, but Great Expectations was not worth it for me. I didn’t even bother watching the movie, either. I hated this book and wanted nothing to do with reading it. Fortunately, I did a good job of taking notes in class when we talked about it and despite not reading this, I managed to ace the test.

Even though I was a huge reader in high school, I bet something that’ll surprise people is I was also a mega math geek. More specifically, I was a statistics whiz. When I was going through my yearbooks trying to find a photo to scan for this post, a pile of my stats notes fell out. I scanned one of the pages because now, 10 years since taking those notes, I have absolutely, positively no idea what they mean. And as much as they claim we’ll use this stuff in our real life, I can’t remember the last time I needed to make any of those charts or work out any of those complicated formulas.

At least reading and the passion for books never goes away that easily!

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  1. says

    I do love that you were a champion in Badminton. Now that's a high school experience! I love that game because as the nonathlete that I am, even I can manage to make it work.

  2. says

    Thanks goodness I was never assigned Great Expectations….
    Great post – I'm an Illinois girl too (still am.)

    I loved high school too, was very involved, read everything assigned (and a lot more)and only cheated once (on a chemistry test.) Brings back memories….

  3. says

    I didn't know you read the Sloppy Firsts series series! I've read the first two books but haven't read the others. (I know right!)

    Also, let's discuss how awesome badminton is. Because it is. Also, I was a flautist for 4 years! Holla fellow flautist!

    • says

      One of my favorite series. I have been wanting for a long time to go back and reread them, all in order, since I read them as they published (gaps!).

      Badminton IS awesome. No better sport. They tried to get me to do tennis but I was a loyalist. And also, tennis involved playing outdoors.

      High five fellow flutie. Except, you know, I switched to sax.

  4. says

    Aw, love this post, bb!! You sound like you would've been fun to hang around with.

    As you are NOW… :)))

    *fist-bap* on the Great Expectations hate. Don't understand what anyone sees in that book. Or movie. Ugh.

    • says

      I was so, so, SO type-A in high school, though (definitely not as much any more).

      And AWWWW.

      Seriously, I do not get Great Expectations at all, and now I feel even more solidarity in knowing you also do not see what anyone sees in this one. I'd reread Tale of Two Cities a million times over GE!

  5. says

    I love getting a glimpse of others' high school lives – and way to be brave posting photos :)

    I read every single thing I was assigned in HS, even Great Expectations (ok, I liked it). But I don't think I read much of anything back then that wasn't on an approved reading "list" of some sort.

  6. says

    Just weighing in on the YES to Tale of Two Cities and NO to Great Expectations. For the record, when I was a high school English teacher, I spared my students that pain :-)

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