Started the year off finishing a short story collection, The Worst Years of Your Life: Stories for the Geeked-Out, Angst-Ridden, Lust-Addled, and Deeply Misunderstood Adolescent in All of Us, edited by Mark Jude Poirier.
This one has been on my TBR shelf for a while. The copyright date is 2007, which sounds about right. The price sticker on the back is from Borders, so that tells you something. It’s not the longest-waiting book on the TBR shelf.
The stories all feature protagonists in middle or high school, or a mix of both. It’s a solid collection that doesn’t get repetitive, given the mix of eras, nationalities, sexes, and sexualities of the main characters.
Surprisingly – my bias is showing – editor Mark Poirier’s story “Thunderbird” was one of my favorites. I find that an editor including their own work in an anthology is usually more a testament to their ego than their ability to hold their own, but I was nicely surprised by this story of a closeted gay middle schooler dealing with bad friends and bullies while coming to terms with his burgeoning sexuality.
Other standouts are stories from George Saunders and Nathan Englander, both of whom write about the people in your neighborhood from a child’s perspective. Jim Shepard’s “Spending the Night with the Poor” is a painfully real examination of the relationship of two girls from different social classes, neither of whom understand how their different lifestyles will affect their friendship or how to navigate those differences.
The collection also includes some delightfully creepy fiction from A.M. Homes, whose “A Real Doll” documents a boy’s relationship with his older sister’s Barbie; and Stanley Elkins, whose “A Poetics for Bullies” gets into the head of a neighborhood little asshole who terrorizes weaker kids until his comeuppance arrives.
The charms of a few entries were lost on me, particularly those whose youthful protagonists involved with drugs, sex, and crime. I was a sheltered kid and a very late bloomer, so I have no entry point for these kinds of stories. In my head, I know that thirteen and fourteen year olds – and younger – get into all kinds of things, but the experience is so foreign to me the stories felt more like science fiction than slice of life. But that’s a personal reaction, not a criticism of the talent.