I think part of the reason I'm a young adult novelist is down to a particularly dramatic- and traumatic - change of school environment that I experienced when I was twelve years old.
When I was seven, my family moved to England, in the middle of the school year (always fun). I finished that year out at the American School in London, which if any of you have lived in London, wasn't in the new (well, now it's not so new) building in ST. John's Wood. It was in the old buildings in Regent's Park.
But then my parents decided we should go for the full English experience, so I was admitted to the City of London School for Girls - what the Brits in their charming makes not one iota of sense way call a public school but is actually a private school.
It was the kind of school where you wore a uniform. A uniform that had to be purchase at HARRODS. A uniform that was so regimented, it even had regulation UNDERWEAR.
(Me, on my first day of school, Sept 1970)
It was hard at first. The uniform thing didn't bother me so much, but the fact that I went from being surrounded by other Americans to being the only American did. During my first year, the song AMERICAN PIE by Don Maclean came out. It's a great song, but can I tell you how many times girls with English accents tortured me with that song by singing it every time they saw me?
I grew to love that school though. I was young enough that I adapted by "going native." Lost the American accent pretty quickly and soon, if you saw me on the Tube, you wouldn't be able to tell me from any of the other little English schoolgirls - well, except maybe I had better teeth because my parents took me to a dentist that practiced American dentistry because UK dentistry in those days was notoriously bad.
(Before I got the bad news)
In 1975, I was 12 and practicing for my Bat Mitzvah. I'd been accepted to a special youth program at one of prestigious London music colleges for my cello playing. And then...my parents told us we were moving back to the States.
And thus my YA novelist career was born. I was supposed to go into seventh grade at Cloonan Middle School in Stamford CT, but my British private (sorry public) school education meant that I was a year ahead of my peers in most subjects. The school argued with my mom about moving me ahead until they tested me and then they just shut up and put me in 8th grade.
After being in sheltered, all-girls school with regulation underwear, life in a very mixed catchment area middle school in 1975 America was MAJOR culture shock. First there was the bus. People were smoking cigarettes and pot in the back of the bus. I hadn't even HEARD of pot until I got on that bus. (Yeah, I know, sheltered. Seriously sheltered.) Gangs of girls hung out in the bathrooms smoking cigarettes. I was so scared of them, I would literally hold it in all day.
Then there were the other things, like clothes. I'd been wearing school uniform five days a week, so I didn't have that many clothes. Suddenly, clothes really mattered. People gave you a hard time about your clothes.
And then there was my accent. I'd come back from my years in England, sounding like a proper English schoolgirl. Kids would come up to me and bark, "TALK!" as if I were a performing animal. "Say Peaches and cream with strawberries!" was a popular request.
Needless to say, my desire to fit in was WAY stronger than my desire to keep my English accent, so I lost it. FAST.
But trauma from that radical change of schools - that horrific one year of middle school and the four years of high school that followed - form the basis, the inspiration, and the heart of my career as a young adult novelist.
(Okay, maybe I don't look so traumatized here, but trust me, I was!)
How about you? Did you ever change schools? Was it for the better or for the worse?