Sarah woke up August 17th not realizing what day it was. After a moment, though, it became clear. It was a day of much importance. It was her 14th birthday and the day before she started high school. Woohoo.
She grabbed her ipod off her nightstand and checked the time. 5:32 AM. So that's why she wasn't awoken by her mother rampaging her room, screaming about her baby growing up. Then screaming happy birthday over and over.
Sarah changed into some clothes, doing her best to keep from waking up her sister, Hanna. She crept downstairs and into the kitchen. She filled her water bottle and grabbed the can of pringles. She laid on her couch in the living room and turned on her laptop. She checked her email and deleted the irrelevant messages. She read fanfiction for the next hour.
"Hey kid, what are you doing up this early?" Her dad walked into the living room and turned on the lamp. Sarah was sitting in the dark with the only light coming from her laptop screen before.
"I just woke up. My laptop was downstairs so I came downstairs." Sarah said.
"Whatever you say." He shrugged. "Happy Birthday Pumpkin, I'm going to get some coffee. Every one will be here at 6." He nodded at her and walked out the front door.
Around 10AM Sarah's Mother came ambling down the stairs "Oh, there's the birthday girl!" He came and gave Sarah a hug. She sat awkwardly as her mother embraced her rambling about how her baby is growing up too fast. Her mother was freaking out and all Sarah could make herself do is pat her mother's back hope she stopped soon. Sarah was uncomfortable with human emotions.
Her mother got herself together and sat up "Oh Sarah. You're 14 now, you're almost an adult now. You only have a few years left as a child. Do you feel any different now that you're a big kid instead of a little girl?" She asked.
Sarah didn't know how to respond to that question. Every year she was asked if she felt any different being one year old. She didn't understand the question. She wasn't one year older from the previous day. Of course she would feel the same as she did yesterday. Aging a year didn't just happen at midnight. She didn't go from being 13 years old to 14 years old at midnight. It was an ongoing process over the past year. She was almost the same age as she was yesterday. To get a better answer they would have to to ask a better question. Sarah didn't know what question they could ask but 'do you feel any older' is a stupid question.
Sarah didn't say this to her ecstatic mother. She just smiled charmingly and stated "Definitely." that was the expected answer. The answer that wouldn't spur more questions.
Her mother smiled at her daughter. Sarah was never a normal child. When her siblings were running around outside playing, she was cooped up in her room with a book in her hands, reading. Camille Isaacs wouldn't admit but Sarah's obsession with books often worried her. She feared that her daughter was so caught up in her books that she would forget about the real world. She would get sucked into this fictional life she has created for herself, never finding her way out.
Sarah had a habit of locking herself in a room. She would read for hours on end. She would discuss book characters like she knew them and they were close friends of hers. She would cry over the fictional deaths of fictional characters. When asked why she was crying since they weren't real, Sarah would insist they were real in her heart. Camille had considered getting therapy for the girl. This couldn't be a healthy thought process.
Camille supposed that she would never understand her daughter's love for books. Camille wasn't a huge fan of books when she was a child. She only read when she was forced. She found books to be droll and unamusing. She never got lost in books like her daughter and husband did.
"Dad says everyone is coming over at 6ish. He went to get coffee." Sarah explained.
"Okay, we'll make sure you and Lee get this room cleaned before they get here?" She ordered.
"Whatever mom." SArah said. She closed her laptop and picked a book off of the floor. She hoped that her mother realised she was trying to get her to leave. It wasn't that she didn't love her mother, she did, but sometimes her mother had a habit of being over emotional. It made her uneasy.
Her mother did get the hint. She got up and patted Sarah's head. "Happy Birthday, Sweetheart." Her mother left to go get some breakfast.
Sarah jumped into the world of her latest book. Immediately she was enveloped in this fictional world. THe book she was currently reading was a bad boy, good girl romance. Full of delicious cliches. Hugs and kisses and detentions. Scandals and lip biting. She envisioned herself as the main character Annabel. She was a beautiful shy nerd. She blushed at the lightest compliments. But she was sassy, with a sharp tongue. Somehow this girl who had never been kissed before now had all the boys after her. Sarah loved book logic. THe basic plot of the books was simple and over manufactured. Shy, nerdy girl catches the eye of the bad boy and is sucked into this crazy world where she lies and sneaks out. They of course didn't have a healthy romance. THe love interest Roman was tart and sarcastic. He pushed Annabel's limits and made her believe she wanted to do these unhealthy things she would usually never do. THis unhealthy relationship was romanticised again and again by books. Same characters, different names. Add a character quirk and boom you have the next best seller.
There is a certain formula for writing a typical young adult book. Your main character must be a 15 to 17 year old girl. She must be a walking contradiction. 'Shy' but acts like the most outgoing human being ever. Insecure but the most beautiful girl in all the land. A loner with 405 friends. You get the jist. She must always be beautiful but never admit it out right.
You must have atleast one love interest (the more the merrier). There are three basic templates for a love interest. Number one is the sarcastic, mean bad boy or rebel. Usually has several past hook ups. Popular but only has a few close friends. Wears all black and leather. Motorcycle optional. Rough. Tortured soul though. He has a reason for being a jerk. Has a soft side that most don't see. Love interest number two is the perfect boy. Most popular boy in school. Hottest boy alive. For some reason interested in the 'ugly' (but actually beautiful) girl. Hot evil girlfriend. Also a tortured soul. Typical Jock, but secretly a romantic genius that quotes shakespeare. Nicest guy ever. Nice to nerds and outcasts. Volunteers. Is nice to his mother. Love interest number three, the cute sweet nerd. This is the rarest of the three. Commonly the best friend of the main character. He is a sweet boy. THe definition of the 'nice guy'. Listens to her complain about jerks. Secretly in love with her. They will have the healthiest relationship.
The next necessary part of a young adult book is the best friend. You have three options. First the female best friend they have known forever. She knows how to do makeup and hair. She is wise. But Sassu. Definitely sassy. She is a lesser version of the main character. She knows exactly who the main character ends up with. Insists he likes her. Next is the gay guy best friend who is the same as the female best friend but a stereotypical gay man. Third is the cute sweet nerd love interest.
Next you need a parent. The parent will be one of two cliches. Either a jerk who doesn't let the kid do anything and is the reason the main character is rebelling. They are bossy and mean. THe character hates them. The other parent that is allowed is the best friend parent. THey are nice and easy going. THey let the kid do whatever they want and don't care. Neither of these parental relationships are healthy, of course not. THis is young adult fiction! All our relationships are unhealthy!
After that you need an antagonist. Your options for this are an ex boyfriend or a typical mean girl. The ex boyfriend is upset that she is over him so quickly and thinks that she should be groveling over him. He is not over her and wants to ruin her life for being more mentally stable than he is. Or he believes that she is still in love with him and insists on getting her back. The mean girl is either the jock's girlfriend or a ex bestfriend. They know her secrets and are willing to use them against her.
All that's left is a simple overused plot and either some random mythical creatures or character quirks. Slap on a cheesy title and a cover with a girl's face on it and boom you got yourself a best seller.
Yes it's sad that most of the books that are known to be good are just products of this formula that feign creativity but that's the truth. Stepping out of this formula is dangerous. But it can be worth the risk. It will either crash and fail or it will become popular. Everyone in the world will either love or hate it. They will argue over. They will fangirl hard over it. It will be criticised cruelly and praised passionately. Then it will spark a bunch of books using the same plot along side some pieces of this formula. But most of the time these books will fail and be slipped under the carpet with the rest of the outcasts.
Sarah was well acquainted with this formula. She could tell the plot of a book based on the inside cover. She knew these books were carbon copies of almost every other book she has ever read and for some reason she was okay with that. The reason is, the formula works! The formula entices readers. It is s perfect and clean cut.
Everyone craves this simple formula in their day to day life. They wish that her life was this eas. That the biggest choice to make was whether to wear the baby blue shirt or the navy blue shirt. They want to fall in love with in a few months of dating. That's why the formula works.
Sarah wants to be a writer. She wants to create a book. She wants people to fall in love with these characters she created. She wanted her main characters to fall in love with each other. She wanted to write quotable quotes. She wanted to live through her character's lives like a mother lives vicariously through her daughter's life.
Her family came downstairs and gave her 'happy birthdays' throughout the day. Sarah ignored them and kept reading. Sure she used the necessary social pleasantries, but she didn't go into any more deeper conversation. At half til six Sarah had already finished her book and was well into another. She closed her current book and tucked it under her couch to keep it safe. She went around the house, cleaning as she went. She let the dogs in and let everyone know that the rest of the family would be here soon.
Soon the rest began to arrive. First her grandparents, then her aunts and uncles. Then the family friends and older siblings alongs, with the nieces and nephews dragging behind them. By six they were all there.
Sarah had 7 siblings, 3 nieces and nephews, two uncles and one aunt. A big family, definitely. Her oldest brother, Mason, and her father left to get some pizza hut for everyone. While waiting, they made casual pleasantries and caught up on each other's lives.
THey ate pizza then chocolate cake. THen it was time for the real event. Presents.
SArah sat on the couch. Her four brothers all gave her money, her three sisters gave her either makeup or jewelry. Her grandparents gave her puzzles and body wash/shampoo combos. Then it came time for the aunts and uncles.
Uncle Frederick was first, her was her dad's older brother and the most unemotional and distant of the lot "Her id. You survived another year, congrats." He handed her a rectangular box wrapped in plain brown paper. Sarah ripped off the packaging and inside was a white box with 'Tell your story' written across the top in black cursive. Inside was three ink pens and a leather bound notebook. "Maybe you can use this to scribe the next year you survive." He nodded at her and leaned back against the wall.
After that was her Aunt Marge, she was the middle child, a year younger than her dad. She handed SArah a square box wrapped in baby pink soft paper. "Here you go sweetheart." Sarah unfolded the paper and opened the black jewelry box. Inside was a simple oval locket with no picture inside. "In high school you'll find someone you'll love forever. Whether it's a friend or a boy, it's important. Put their picture there." She leaned against the wall next to her brother.
Last was Uncle Mason, the youngest brother, "Here you go kiddo." He handed her a medium sized box wrapped in light blue paper covered with teddy bears. Inside the box was a black teddy bear with white paws and blue eyes. "When those friends Mags was talking about turn out maybe to not be forever, you have Alex to hug and keep you warm."
All that was left was her her parents. Since her mother was at work, her dad stepped forward. "Our present, is a bet. You say you want to be a writer, but how can you write someone else's life when you haven't even lived your own? You spend too much of your time reading books and not going out and living your life. Our bet is that if you can last one year, reading only one book a month we will give you two hundred dollars. Every extra book you read extra will make a 10 dollar deduction from the final winnings. Of you run out of winning money then for every extra book you read we will get to donate one of your books. Will you take this bet?" Her father said calmly, showing no emotion.
Sarah was blindsided by this bet. Only one book a month? That would be too hard. But then again 200$ is a lot of money and that's enough for 20 extra books without penalty. She bounced the idea around in her head for a few minutes before finally coming to the decision... "I'll take that bet." She regretted that choice for a moment but kept her face blank.
Lucas Isaacs smiled slightly at his daughter. He was glad she was agreeing to his proposition. "Good. The deal starts at midnight. By the way online stories count as well."
Sarah nodded at her father in agreement. That was the end of that. THe party went on for a few more minutes as everyone went their way home.
It wasn't until Sarah was in her bedroom on her ipod that night, that the regret set in. How was she supposed to last a month with only one book? How was that going to be possible. Sarah read at least one to two books a week. She was now freaking out. What was she supposed to do?
Sarah couldn't sleep now. She grabbed her gifts from Uncle Frederick and went into the bathroom and closed the door. Here she could have privacy and turn on the lights if she wanted. She closed the toilet and sat on the lid.
She opened the black journal and saw that her uncle had already written a note for her from all him and his brother and sister.
Dear our dearest niece Sarah,
Congratulations on surviving the first fourteen years of what will hopefully be a long, long life. Tomorrow you will start high school. These next four years will impact you forever.
Our brother told us about his little bet and we know you will take it. You have the Isaacs’ competitive streak. We hope that our gifts will help you survive the next year and the next three years after that.
We gave you;
This notebook to record your experiences ‘learning to live’. We hope you use it to help find who you are.
A locket to hold the ones you find dear close to your heart.
And Alex the teddy to comfort you during your turmoils since you won't be able to escape into books.
Not to be cliche, but may the odds be ever in your favor.
Frederick, Mason, and Margaret.
Sarah reread the message several times. She smiled at her aunt and uncle's words of wisdom. She turned to the first page and started writing.
I’m Sarah. Nice to meet you. Today I started a bet I will regret. It is that if I can last one year reading only one book a month, my father will pay me 200$. Tomorrow I start at a high school where I will know no one. I don't have my books to keep me company.
Wish me good luck, diary.
Sarah Marie Isaacs.Sarah finished her entry of the day. She went back to her room, tucked her ‘diary’ into her backpack, and went to bed.