There’s been a lot of talk on the web in the last few days about the tragic story of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after being ruthlessly bullied. At first, I tried to avoid reading the angry and heartbroken posts about her. I was afraid. A coward. I did not want to be reminded of my own past, the wounds from nearly seventeen years ago that still feel fresh whenever I think about them.
A lot of people have asked me how autobiographical Beautiful is. I usually say something cryptic like “some,” or “a little,” or sometimes even “a lot.” I remember workshopping it in my MFA program, how someone commented that a few of the scenes were unbelievable. The scenes she was talking about just happened to be some of the most autobiographical in the book. It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction. Truth is also scarier than fiction. It is also more tragic.
The truth is, there was an Alex. She had green hair. She made me burn pictures of my old friends. She convinced me to do things I knew were wrong, and I called her my best friend. And then she turned on me. To this day, I don’t really know why. Perhaps part of writing Beautiful was an attempt to find out. Maybe I was trying to understand her, trying to understand how someone could be so cruel. However many pages later, I still don’t know the answer.
That scene toward the end of the book with the gangster girls next to the mom’s car? Yes, that really happened.
The phone calls to Cassie’s home, the death threats? Yes, that happened too.
Despite “Alex”‘s discipline history, despite a call to the police, despite my mom’s repeated entreaties, the school administration refused to do anything about the bullying. I had to change schools, but that did not solve everything. I was traumatized. Relationships and trust remained difficult for a very long time. I thought I saw her everywhere I went. I’d panic when I had to go somewhere she might be. There’s a knot in my stomach now just thinking about it. I’m thirty years old, but my body holds a memory of that fear. The pain of that time of my life is still raw, can still make me feel like I’m thirteen and huddled in my bedroom wondering if it will ever stop.
That’s when I started writing. That’s why I had to start writing. That’s why I write now.
YA Authors Megan Kelly Hall and Carrie Jones are starting to get a group of young adult authors together to make a stand against the type of bullying that killed Phoebe Prince, that almost killed me, that tortures so many kids across the country. Isolation is deadly, and we must do everything we can to let kids know they never have to feel this alone. There is always a better way out. There is always hope.