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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

"You should write a story about ..."

Writing for young adults, and talking with middle schoolers on school visits, gives me glimpses like little windows into American life today. Early adolescents may not yet be paying bills or carrying mortgages, but they very often feel the crunch of family stress, and the tension between hope and fear or dreams and despair, more intensely than they ever will again in their lives. They see things clearly — often things they can only live with, that they have no power to change.

Last week I shared some entries that middle schoolers had made in my pocket notebook, after I'd talked with them at their schools over the past year or so. Today I’m looking at a small stack of lined paper, each sheet the size of an index card. Eighth graders at a school in suburban-rural New Hampshire each wrote an idea for a realistic novel on one of these pages, after we talked recently. Their teacher then sent the stack to me.

Here’s a selection of what's written on these little papers:

The idea I have for a story is one that I and many other girls can relate to. My idea is of a girl in middle/high school who is very self-conscious. Every day she thinks she is ugly, fat, stupid. Eventually she develops an eating disorder from not eating. The book could be about her trying to recover from it, and how her friends help her along the way.

A girl from Australia struggles to make friends and fit in with everyone in California. When she loses all hope, she finds a band who gives her the strength to move on. Black Veil Brides.

An idea I think would be good for another story would be about a kid who tries growing up without a father and has trouble in school. I feel this because I know a couple of kids who go through this and it could help.

A girl who can’t find her passion for something and during the whole story she realizes she’s passionate about all the things she tried out.

Two kids go on a fishing trip but things go terribly wrong. They find out that their parents have been keeping a dark secret and their parents have been taken. They need to find them in a different realm and quick because time’s running out.

You should write a story about a boy who loves basketball and is really good at it, but the day of his championship game he gets sick and has to go home. But by the end of the day he feels better so he plays in the game and they win the championship. But that’s against the rules and the championship gets taken away.

I think a really cool idea for a book could be about a girl has been living in the wilderness alone for 13 years and she is finally discovered at 18 years old.

You should write about a girl who “self harms.” She is severely bullied. Then a new guy comes to town and they start to like each other and he saves her from killing herself. (You can use my name if you want.)

You should write a story about a family that abuses their cat and dog and have it be in the pets’ point of view.

A story about a boy who is already dating a girl but he has to move and the girl goes off with him and their journey is crazy because their parents don’t know about it.

A teacher that is a monster and eats the students’ homework.

A story about a celestial person who is trying to reach his village but must fight monsters to gather the three sacred star pieces to get back to his home.

There is a boy his name is George he has a problem. He can’t stop bullying kids. This girl before he bullies her she bullies him to see how he feels. He feels awful of what he did so he went to all the people he bullied and said sorry to them. Then the boy started getting more friends.

You could write a story about a teenager who gets physically abused at home. You could make the story more about how it affects their life.

A story that would be good is a true story about a kid whose mom dies and he has to move all the way across the country from Idaho to New Hampshire that’s what happened to me.

An idea is a character who rides a dirt bike. The character breaks his leg and does not know if he will ever be able to ride again. His family tries to comfort him but it does not work. Later his leg would be healed and he rides again.

Lexi is one of the popular girls. But she gets sick and tired of being so mean and cruel to innocent teens like her just to fit in, and “breaks from the inner circle.” But what she doesn’t know is that the inner circle has never had anybody break from them and just get away with it. Lexi should be bullied in the worst ways possible, like calling her all the time day or night. Then Lexi should start going out with a gorgeous captain of the football team Liam, who should never break up with her. Liam is sweet and nice, but the bullying gets worse. You should call this story “Shadow.” (Just so you remember me, I am reading 7 books at one time.)

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