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.
i have goosebumps.
thanks for sharing this amy. it’s so, so important.
Kirsten Hubbard says
great and poignant post, amy.
as a ya author, stories like this affect me more than ever before — but it gives me hope to be approaching a place where I can have an effect on teens in tough and tragic situations.
Maurissa Guibord says
Thank you Amy for being brave enough to face these things in your life, and in your writing and again here. It sounds like you went through a horrific experience. I’m sorry.
I’m so glad to see writers coming together to help teens.
You’re right- there is hope.
Powerful post, Amy. You’re so brave for putting your truth out there. I hope your efforts will help to raise awareness about this insidious issue.
It breaks my heart and makes my stomach churn thinking about what you endured. I’m so sorry.
It also terrifies me as a mother of a little girl.
Beautiful post, Amy.
Thanks everyone for your comments. I feel really lucky to be a YA author–I think we, more than maybe any other group of writers, have the power to make real change in the lives of our readers. I hope so. And talesofanunfinishedmom, I totally know what you’re saying–I’ve thought a lot about what kind of mother I’m going to be, and how my experiences are going to effect that. Part of me fears I’ll be way too overprotective in an attempt to protect my child from the kind of experiences I went through. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
Oh, and here’s a link to the new Young Adult Authors Against Bullying group on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/group.php?gid=105581906147904&ref=ts
I just read your book and totally soaked it in. Part of me loved that the book was so true to life, and the whole time I was wondering, ‘Is everything that happened in here true?’ Reading your post, I know now I suppose. Thank you for the story, it really makes me realize how lucky I am.
Thank you Amy for writing your story and for your thoughts for Phoebe. My sister experienced alot of bullying as a teen and it scarred her sweet soul. It is fantastic that YA authors are standing up against bullying. Awareness always seems to be the first step to change…and hope.