There is no easy way to say this, but growing up sucks. I would not recommend it.
When you’re a child, you can’t wait to become older. To reach the double digits. To turn 13, be a “real teenager” and watch PG-13 films; then 16, so you can finally drive. Before you turn 18 to become a “real adult,” you have to turn the highly romanticized 17. At 18, you get some of the responsibilities of an adult but are still considered a child, and God forbid, you take a sip of alcohol before you’re 21. Now I’m at the weird age of 19 where technically I’m still a teenager and not quite living it up in my 20s, though somehow I’m expected to act like an adult and try to find my own way in the world.
I’m not so sure I want that to happen. To cope, I turn to books. I find comfort in re-reading books I loved in middle school, whether those be actual middle-grade books or young adult books. Authors like Rick Riordan, Wendy Mass and Morgan Matson transport me into a simpler time. However, I realize that I’m no longer the target audience for these books, which is a hard pill to swallow.
Most middle-grade fiction is targeted toward the ages of 8 to 12, while young adult fiction lingers in the teenage years. It’s all overwhelming, and sometimes intimidating, once you throw in the emerging “new adult” for a reader who just wants a break from it all. Would it be too much to ask for a protagonist in college?
When I read about protagonists that are older than me, I pray that my life is as highly romanticized as theirs. On the other hand, when I read about protagonists that are younger than me, I almost feel superior to them because I presumably know more than they do. In reality, I’m not more mature or more knowledgeable; I still find it difficult to grasp the idea of growing up. It’s strange to read about a time that I can never get back. Although I would never want to relive high school, I still envy the 16- and 17-year-olds in my favorite young adult books. In my mind, they’re forever stuck at the age they are in their respective work of fiction. They don’t have to experience the real world and all its misfortunes. I can vicariously experience their adventures and friendships over and over again.
Earlier this year, I embarked on the daunting task of re-reading all seven Harry Potter books. Was I embarrassed by that fact? A little. Somehow, I equate how old I am with the types of books I read, and I expect others to do the same. I assume other people my age probably don’t re-read Harry Potter in their free time because we’re supposed to read educational and enlightening books as we grow older, right? I’m not discrediting middle-grade and young adult books — I’ve continued to learn valuable lessons while reading them. More importantly, themes in middle-grade and young adult fiction books, like love and friendship, don’t just disappear as you grow older.
Sometimes I feel like everyone around me is progressing in some monumental way, yet at other times I’m convinced we’re all dealing with our own shit. Adults in my life will applaud me for how “mature for my age I am,” but that doesn’t sound as rewarding as it did when I was a child. Adults in my life will look down upon my peers for literally acting their age and still look at me like I’m the poster child for a job well done. I’m not. I’m just like people my age. I find it so hard to allow myself to be and act in the present while coming to terms with my inevitable growth. Although I’m 19, I still feel 17, partly because I can’t comprehend myself being any older. The crazy thing about age is that you just keep getting older. I’ll listen to songs like “It’s Not the Same Anymore” by Rex Orange County, “Older” by Alec Benjamin or even “Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift and mourn for my childhood that I can never relive. Still, I find ways to heal my inner child and deal with this constant liminal state.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Seaman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.