Despite the age-old saying, I do judge my books by their covers. Although sometimes I feel guilty for this habit, I won’t apologize for my actions. Book covers say a lot about the content inside and the effect the author wants to have on readers, so when assigned “Frankly in Love” by David Yoon for this year’s summer reading, I felt cautious but optimistic. The cover was a pink gradient with bold and slightly transparent yellow text overlapping the three teenagers (one boy, flanked by two girls) standing in the center. The smaller pink text at the bottom read “Two Friends. One Fake Dating Scheme. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” I was excited to start reading, hopeful that this book and its teenage narrative would be different from those I had previously read.
Last year, I watched the season premiere of the series “Ginny & Georgia” which follows a woman named Georgia, a perpetually-lipsticked blonde in her mid-30s with a troubled past and constantly on the hunt for a new husband to support her and her two children financially. She drags her family from state to state as soon as relationships go sour, uprooting her teenage daughter Ginny in the process. As a teenager, the show is painful to watch. It’s made clear again and again that it is written by adults trying to emulate how teenagers act and interact. Ginny becomes more and more antagonistic towards her mother and the world around her as the series goes on, becoming an angst-ridden teenager who curses the world for not understanding her.
“Frankly in Love” was much better at portraying the teenage narrative, but still fell short in a few places. Frank Ly, the protagonist, is an Asian-American teenager living in California navigating the complexities of his two identities. Since his Asian parents only allow him to date Asian girls, he devises a fake dating scheme to allow him to date the white girl he is falling in love with. The characters are well-developed, complex, and often address issues that actually afflict most teenagers. Yoon’s blindspots manifested when characters would use phrases that teenagers typically might not, and the book felt unrelatable as the “dating scheme” described wouldn’t happen to the average teenager. Teenagers live exciting and nuanced lives without needing to dramatize them, and doing so cheapens our plight and adds to the misinformation of an already very misunderstood period of life.
When considering these two forms of current media attempting to depict teenage life, I wondered if the true teenage narrative was capturable. It is a time when no one has all the answers and we are trying to figure out who we are in the world. It is a time where social media and surrounding culture play a large role in shaping the vernacular and environment we exist in. It is a living, breathing, and constantly evolving period of life that changes by generation. How could adults possibly attempt to narrate or replicate this if they are not a part of it? As a teenager myself, I would have difficulty producing media that captures all of these nuances.
One of the only places I have felt represented as a teenager is within songs written by teenage artists. Through relatable lyricism and the rising popularity of punk rock, artists like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo can write often heartbreaking lyrics to an ironically upbeat tune, expertly illustrating the duality that comes with being a teenager. Rodrigo’s first album cover, SOUR, features her making a dejected face while being covered in happy, child-like stickers—a beautiful metaphor for the way in which teenagers are often expected to enjoy their youth while internally struggling with issues of identity and belonging.
I appreciate that adult writers are trying to encapsulate the teenage experience because it is a perspective that should never be omitted, but as a society, we need to recognize the value of amplifying those who are living through the experience that is being documented. If we don’t, we risk missing out on the opportunity to capture how this stage of life is forever evolving and growing. Maybe we wouldn’t run to our parents, mascara streaking down our faces and fists balled to our sides while claiming to be misunderstood, if people our own age had a place in creating the media that is supposed to reflect our experiences, our troubles, and our stories.