The teen years are a struggle for most, and utter hell for some. It’s not until later, once you realize that everybody is carrying some form of beat-up, taped together baggage, that things come into focus and life feels a bit more “normal.” The difficult, wrenching, sometimes funny experience of navigating adolescence is the subject of Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL, a collection of narrative non-fiction (previously published as digital singles) from notable authors.
Following a thoughtful foreword by Susin Nielsen, the book opens with Ben Boudreau’s touching “Say It’s Okay,” in which the writer shares his experiences working with a young autistic boy. That story, with its well-balanced mix of anxiety and comedy, is followed by Jo Treggiari’s much darker “Love You Like Suicide.” Treggiari takes readers into Oakland, California’s punk scene, zeroing in on her drug dependence and her best friend’s suicide in raw, honest, and devastating detail.
Other standouts include “The Long Last Year” by Gerrard Collins (Finton Moon), which explores his tumultuous relationship with his father before and after the older man suffers a stroke; and “I Used to Think I’d Make a Good Boy,” Cale Liom’s justifiably angry reflection on the homophobia and gender assumptions that plagued her childhood, adolescence, and early twenties. “Cuisvé” by Chris Benjamin and “Some of My Parts” by Alison DeLory wade into the issue of cultural difference.
While the individual stories are strong, flow is an issue. Close placement of similar pieces undermines their impact. For example, DeLory’s piece, Lee D. Thompson’s “Diary of a Fluky Kid,” and Patti Larsen’s “Prince Nameless” all feature fictional elements set (at least in part) in a forest, and fall on the lighter end of the tension scale.
Similarly, “These Memories Can’t Wait” by Jamie Fitzpatrick, while interesting on its own, falls flat as a conclusion to the collection. A better choice would have been “Before I Was Me” by Chad Pelley, which carries the immediacy and emotion of addressing a high-school friend who committed suicide after months of slut-shaming and bullying. The monologue closes with impact: “That wasn’t you. Because you never happened. No one does, until they’re older. I was twenty-eight before I was me.”