I read so many wonderful memoirs over the course of writing Read On…Life Stories, and a number of times I thought about how much I would have enjoyed many of these books as a teenager, how the stories of real lives are comforting, inspiring, enlightening, informational and often deeply satisfying because we know they’re written by the people who lived the experience. They’re heartfelt. I’ve posted a list of some memoirs that I think teens would enjoy–try them out on teens you know!
I’m not denying/ignoring the power of fiction here, which we all know, is undeniable. Certainly fiction can provide some of the most powerful reading experiences of our lives, but a good memoir is never a dry recounting of facts, a great memoir is literature, like fiction. A good memoir has a beginning, full of exposition and character development, a middle, often with climactic events, and an ending that ties up what came before, often with a satisfying resolution. If you think about Angela’s Ashes—that certainly is a piece of literature with all those qualities. We know that in fiction a writer has used memory, experience, and imagination, all the tools of creative writing. What we sometimes forget, is that memoirs are also shaped by these same literary devices.
There’s also a lot to be said for reading the right book at the right time. The teen years are a time when we need to read the right books–we need guidance from wherever we can get it! Memoirs and autobiographies, stories of real lives by the people who lived them—and survived to tell the tale—can help teens navigate a formative period when they need a bridge to the adult world. Many memoirs are coming of age stories that specifically deal with those years where teens are trying on identities and trying to understand what seems like the secret language of the adult world.
There’s often raw emotion and vulnerability in memoirs, like the music teens listen to and the poetry they write. There’s also the fascination of reading about how the world looks through someone else’s eyes, from inside someone else’s skin.