Thinking Of Leaving Home? Here's A Bit Of Advice From Young Adult Authors : NPR Ed Starting that next chapter can be difficult in any young person's life. And YA writers know it well. Sandra Cisneros, Jacqueline Woodson, Tamora Pierce and Jason Reynolds offer some words of wisdom.
NPR logo Thinking Of Leaving Home? Here's A Bit Of Advice From Young Adult Authors

Thinking Of Leaving Home? Here's A Bit Of Advice From Young Adult Authors

Paige Vickers for NPR
People throw ropes down to young woman.
Paige Vickers for NPR

It's a pivotal moment in any young person's life — that point at which you turn from the home you've known all your life, breathe in deeply and leap into the vast unknown of the world beyond.

It's a moment that young adult authors know well, and not just because they write for these young readers. They've experienced it themselves, and they've come out the other side, pen in hand.

That's why we asked a few YA writers for their advice on this difficult phase. They write stories of the mundane and outlandish, kids like us and mythical creatures unlike any we've seen — but they also have stories of their own to tell. You can find all of them in a series Weekend Edition calls Next Chapter.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Sandra Cisneros
Tamora Pierce
Jason Reynolds
Jacqueline Woodson


Young Adult Authors Offer Advice For Leaving Home

  • Sandra Cisneros

    Jessica Fuentes
    Sandra Cisneros.
    Jessica Fuentes

    Meet Cisneros: The author of The House on Mango Street and Carmelo came of age in Chicago in the early 1970s. "I was a very protected child-girl with lots of curly disco hair, no bra," she says. "My mother was always kind of checking on me when I left the house, and I had a little T-shirt that said merci."

    On Her Departure: She says that, as a Mexican-American woman in that era, she was expected to stay at home until she got married. "But I used the winch of poetry," she recalls. "I said that I needed a place of my own to write ... but I also wanted to have freedom to lead my life and to fall in love and to do things I couldn't do under my father's roof."

    So, she left — but living alone wasn't exactly easy, either.

    "I doubted every day: Did I really want to live like this? Is this how writers live? Here I was, cold in a flat with a heater only in the kitchen and writing by a small, clamp-on architect's lamp," she says.

    "I would just tape things by other women artists like Mary Cassatt: 'I can live alone and I love to work!' That was my mantra for those years. I would just say, 'Yeah, I can live alone and I love to work' — and then I would cry."

    Lessons Upon Looking Back: "You have to control your own money so that you can control your destino, your own destiny. And for women — and men: Control your fertility because that can throw you off your track from your brilliant career," she says.

    And: "Learn how to be alone. It's OK to be by yourself. You do not have to be a unit. You do not have to be a father or a mother. And sometimes it's impossible to be that as an artist, because you can hardly make enough money to take care of you. We become artists because we're lonely. Then we have to be alone to create the art. And then finally, at my stage of my life, I like being alone and prefer my own company."

    Her Advice And Stories

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  • Tamora Pierce

    Property of Tamora Pierce LLC
    Tamora Pierce.
    Property of Tamora Pierce LLC

    Meet Pierce: "First, last, foremost and always in my books, girls kick butt," says the fantasy author, who's responsible for the Song of the Lioness quartet among other works.

    Yet when she was young, her family struggled with finances.

    "I did not talk about where I lived. I did not talk about being on welfare. I was bitterly ashamed of it. I was tired of being poor," she says. "I was tired of it all. And college was my gateway to freedom."

    On Her Departure: "You always dream of something, and then reality always dumps you on your butt. There were still those cliques, the pretty girls who were interested in toenail polish and the fashionable sandals. We found that there were our own bills to pay, meals to worry about."

    Lessons Upon Looking Back: "You can do, you can be anything you want. You may have to work very, very hard. You have to be willing to give things up. That's why your parents turn green when you tell them you want to be an artist or a rock star or a writer — because they'd like you to have those things like regular meals."

    Her Advice And Stories

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  • Jason Reynolds

    Kia Chenelle/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster
    Jason Reynolds.
    Kia Chenelle/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

    Meet Reynolds: "They're slice-of-life stories," the author of All American Boys says of his work, "typically revolving around African-American teenagers, specifically in urban environments."

    But when he was growing up in Washington, D.C., in the era of the crack epidemic, he says there wasn't much literature being written for kids like him.

    "There were no books about your neighborhood being addicted to this specific drug," he says. "So hip-hop, they would — I always tell people the rappers of that time period were the YA authors for us. They were telling our stories."

    On His Departure: "In Brooklyn, I got to cut loose and say to myself, look, this is my shot. I'm going to shoot my shot. You know, we ate peanut butter out of the jar and tuna fish, and we did whatever we could to sort of survive. And on the flip side, I felt like I was living the life I was supposed to be living, the most authentic life that I had lived thus far."

    Lessons Upon Looking Back: "Be not afraid of discomfort. If you can't put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable then you will never grow. You will never change. You'll never learn. I think for me, the discomfort of drowning is what taught me to swim," he says.

    "It takes work. It takes humility. It takes confidence. It takes agency and urgency. And it takes a little bit of luck sometimes, too."

    His Advice And Stories

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  • Jacqueline Woodson

    Juna F. Nagle/Amistad
    Jacqueline Woodson.
    Juna F. Nagle/Amistad

    Meet Woodson: The author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn came of age in Brooklyn in the '70s and '80s — and often hit the dance floor at Studio 54.

    "In the daytime, I was expected to be the straight-A student. I was expected to be college bound. I was expected to be a great big sister. And then at night, I was just a club kid. And it was amazing to be able to let go like that and be that free."

    On Her Departure: "I had this dream of going right into a dorm, and I ended up having to live in these apartments off campus. And I realized that the way the school worked, a lot of the people living in these apartments off campus were people of color," she says.

    And race loomed ever-present in her experiences in school — including one time she wrote about the song Lift Every Voice and Sing, which is often referred to as the "black national anthem." The professor told her the hymn might as well be any other song.

    "And I didn't even know how to begin to explain to him the blasphemy of that," she recalls. "I realized that I was suddenly in a place where I would have to learn how to explain stuff in this really remedial way so that people who had no sense of who I was or where I was coming from could understand."

    Lessons Upon Looking Back: "As people of color, you know, we have this double consciousness and we have this way in which we speak one way in one group and speak another way in another group and see the world from different perspectives," she says.

    Her advice for those about to embark on their own:

    "I would say look up. Get out there and let yourself be afraid. Let yourself have the hard conversations. Walk through the world as though you're walking through it with your skin peeled back, and grow stronger from it."

    Her Advice And Stories

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