One summer day in Chapel Hill, the month after college graduation, I was on campus (force of habit) browsing in the Bull's Head bookshop. The following book cover and author name caught my eye and I bought it:
Dessen is a Chapel Hill resident, UNC alum, former UNC professor, and a young adult author. Though I'd read her first book, "Someone Like You," some time around freshman year, and seen the movie "How to Deal," I didn't know she had other books, or was a fellow Tar Heel, until "Just Listen."
I read the book in one night, staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning to finish. Though the book is about a girl in high school, and I was a 22-year-old college grad about to move across the pond, something in her story grabbed me. And I hated high school, so it certainly wasn't nostalgia. It was her words, her characters, her story.
Over the course of a year I read all her other books. In the years since, as she has released three more, I bought each on their release date and finished each in a matter of days. So, despite my fear of meeting famous people, when I saw that Dessen was going to be at the Bethesda Library last Thursday, I had to attend.
She read from her latest book, "What Happened to Goodbye," took questions, and then signed books. Not surprisingly, the room was dominated by teenage girls. And their mothers. But there were a few people my age, so I wasn't completely out of place. One mother even asked Dessen about her intended audience, and why she thought her books appealed to more than just teens. She said that everyone went through adolescence, that it's something we all share, and tend to have passionate feelings about. And she's never met anyone who didn't have some thoughts, also usually quite passionate, about high school. I would add that her books represent a range of human emotions and experiences that just about anyone can identify with. Yes, they are presented through the lens of teenagers, but that doesn't make them less true or powerful.
Even though I was super nervous, I am very glad to have gone. She clearly loves what she does and has worked incredibly hard to get where she is. And the fact that she is a Carolina girl just makes it all the more inspiring to me.
As she spoke about her struggles to figure out her life, to write and get published, to go from waitress to professor to writer to mother, she said something that really stood out to me:
"I think you just end up where you're supposed to be, that's what I believe."
Similarly, I believe that everything happens for a reason, so I wholeheartedly agree with this. (Even though it's incredibly difficult to remember and understand in practice.)
It was just a fun night and I look forward to spending a few weeks re-reading some of her earlier books.