Today, my guest is MuseItUp YA author, Barbara Ehrentreu. Barbara released her YA coming of age novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, last year through MuseItUp Publishing. Having had the pleasure of being Barbara's line editor, I can highly recommend this book for young adults.
Self Esteem and Teens
I suppose every writer has to use some part of their own lives in their writing. I grew up with a mother who had very little self-esteem due to the way her mother had treated her. My mother was a little chubby when she was younger, and my grandmother used to punish her by not letting her have dessert. When my mother went to visit her aunt, the aunt gave my mother tons of candy and anything else she wanted to eat. She came home, and my grandmother couldn’t believe it. That was really when my mother’s problems with food started. All her life she tried to lose weight and she never felt happy about herself except for a few months before my brother’s bar mitzvah when she lost a lot of weight on Weight Watchers and looked gorgeous. That same year I got married, so she was able to look good in both places.
My mother’s lack of self-esteem didn’t show itself in her personality because she was lively and funny, and everyone loved her. No, but she would secretly eat and then hate herself later. She was incapable of feeling good about herself no matter what and this transmitted itself to me. Growing up, I was not stick thin. Though I did have a good figure for my age, I felt I was too fat. The whole idea of not looking good enough had been ingrained in me. My mother would always point out some flaw so I wouldn’t feel comfortable. At family gatherings, I would feel comfortable, and then something would happen, and people would tease me about things I did. I was three when I fell off a cliff and needed stitches. My family never let me forget that. I wasn’t the most coordinated person, and my family used to call me a “klutz”. I had a few moments in family situations when I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself.
I knew I was never going to look like the popular girls, and yet I wanted my curly hair to be stick straight and blonde, and I wanted to have a larger bosom and be noticed. I didn’t realize how I looked, because I had this ideal image in my head. As a teenager, men noticed me, and I just thought it happened to everyone because men did that to women. I got whistles and catcalls, and they only made me feel worse. When someone has low self-esteem, it doesn’t matter what anyone says or does. For teens today who feel like I felt this can be a very sad experience.
When I started writing my YA novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, I modeled my main character on my younger daughter, who had issues with self-esteem. My main character, Carolyn, doesn’t feel good about herself. Her self-esteem at the beginning of the book is very low. She doesn’t think she can be popular or that any boy would look at her. At least not Brad Morrow, the hot junior quarterback. She obsesses over almost everything and worries that she will run into Jennifer Taylor who has been bullying her since middle school. Jennifer is a size two, and she is the most popular girl in the freshman class. She is on the Olympic track for gymnastics, and she seems so perfect. But Jennifer is not perfect, and Carolyn finds out that Jennifer doesn’t feel so good about herself. In fact, Jennifer might have an eating disorder, which is affecting her health. Carolyn doesn’t know what to do when she finds out her secret. When a girl with Carolyn’s self-esteem has the opportunity to change herself with an offer from the most popular girl in the class, what can she do?
Today, there are too many teens who don’t feel good about themselves. They are the victims of bullies, and they have parents who don’t understand the feelings they are going through, though they might have felt the same way as teens. Many don’t speak up and go through their days thinking this feeling of unworthiness is normal. My daughter felt this way, though she had everything going for her. She never got out of her shell even though she was the lead in the senior play, and she had lots of friends. She didn’t feel good about herself. She couldn’t enjoy the moments. We need to bring our children up to feel good about themselves.
Barbara Ehrentreu Bio
Barbara, a retired teacher with a Masters degree in Reading and Writing K-12 and seventeen years of teaching experience lives with her family in Stamford, Connecticut. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Barbara’s first YA novel, was published by MuseItUp Publishing, September 16th and was inspired by Paula Danziger. In addition, Barbara has a story in the anthology, Lavender Dreams, also published by MuseItUp Publishing. All proceeds from this anthology go to cancer research. Barbara also writes poetry and three of her poems are included in the soon to be published anthology, Prompted, a collaboration of members of The Anthologists. Her blog, Barbara’s Meanderings, http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com/, is networked on both Facebook and Blog Catalog. She hosts RRWL Tales from the Pages (Red River Writers Live Tales from the Pages) on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. In addition, her children's story, “The Trouble with Follow the Leader” and an adult story, “Out on a Ledge” are published online She has written book reviews for Authorlink.com. and several of her reviews have been on Acewriters and Celebrity Café. She is a member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!
Carolyn Samuels’ freshman year becomes a series of lies to cover Jennifer Taylor’s terrible secret in return for popularity.
Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a Math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain.With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky Junior quarterback Brad her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. After Jennifer’s the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to sleep over to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and become popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?
I spot him walking toward my locker with a small box in one hand and a plastic fork in the other. My Crush! He hands me the box, and I open it. Inside is a piece of luscious chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I look up into his blue eyes and give him the box so I can touch his cheek as I smooth his dark hair.
“You always know just what I like.”
He smiles and feeds me a forkful of cake. I don’t have to worry about eating it because I can eat anything I want and not gain weight. He places the cake box in my locker so he can put his arms around me.
The first bell rings in my ears. I ignore it because I’m thin and blonde and floating in the arms of my dark-haired crush. The other cheerleaders run up to us laughing and kidding around, and I’m about to speak. The ringing gets louder.
The dream evaporates, and I realize it’s the darn alarm piercing my sleep. Slamming my fist onto the snooze button, I get this nagging feeling. Then I remember. I have something to do. Worse luck, I have to do it, not as the slender blonde beauty in my dream, but as the real Carolyn Samuels with my brown curly hair hanging like shriveled spaghetti, mud brown eyes, and a body too large for fashion.
I see my new book bag is packed and ready by the door with the initials C. S. in blue, my favorite color. Suddenly it hits me, and I get this dizzy let-me-plop-on-the-pillow feeling. Freshman year of high school— first day. My brain is ready, but my body isn't. Jennifer will be there. Math class and Jennifer; gym class with Jennifer. My body curls into a fetal position, and I throw the covers over my head. Don’t faint Carolyn, I tell myself, panting.
Dangling over the chair are those size twelve jeans, clown pants— hardly a fashion statement. I groan. Paired with the red long-sleeved T- shirt, they looked so good on the mannequin; I’ll look like a stoplight. What was I thinking? How could I possibly go to school looking like such a freak?
Actually, the real reason I can’t go is Jennifer, with her long straight
blonde hair, perfect body, and clothes from magazines like Teen andSeventeen.
Yuck. I feel sick, sick with Jenniferitis.
I hear Mom's footsteps on the stairs.
“Why are you still in bed?” She comes upstairs and peeks into my
room with a puzzled look on her face.
Moving the blanket up to my nose, I say, “Mom, I can't stop
shivering, and my stomach and head hurt.”
She feels my head and looks at me with mother vision. “Carolyn,
did you think I'd fall for your tricks?”
I cringe. Now my stomach and head ache for real. Defeated, I climb
out of bed and get washed. I slip the hated outfit onto my body and glance at my bloated reflection in the mirror. It's too late to change. I’m stuck with this. If only I could be like Jennifer Taylor.
After picking up my book bag, I race down the stairs, take a couple of bites of a chocolate-chocolate chip muffin and a few sips of non-fat milk. I almost trip over a lump blocking the door. Max, our five-year old Newfoundland raises his massive bear-like head, sniffing like he’s never eaten a thing in his life when he sees my muffin. I glance at his empty bowl and throw the rest of the muffin into it. He sees it and licks my face; now I’m going to smell like dog food all day. Grabbing a paper towel, I wipe my face and lean to ruffle his soft fur. At least Max doesn’t care what I wear. Feed him and rub him under his chin, and he’ll cover you with slurpy kisses.
Mom is already in our three-year-old silver Malibu that, like my jeans, doesn't quite make a fashion statement.
On the drive to school, I'm looking forward to seeing Becky and Janie my two best friends from forever. Don't want to see Jennifer's face on the first day of high school.