I grew up reading about girls—because boys had cooties. I read about younger girls who played dress-up and had tea parties, and I read about older girls who spent hours carefully applying makeup, had elaborate sleepovers and slammed lockers in other girls’ faces. As my height crept upwards, I began to realize the lives of these girls barely resembled my own. Sure, I played with Barbie dolls and sang Hannah Montana karaoke, but I also asked for homework for Christmas and had mud fights with my sister in the riverbed near my grandmother’s house. I wanted to meet characters who were like me: characters who loved to explore and learn and not just flirt with boys.
Where are the book characters who represent my voice? The voices of adult writers rarely capture the realities of my life and the lives of my peers. Now as a 16-year-old, it can be cringy to read an adult-written novel through a teenage girl’s perspective, just like their use of the word “cringy” is cringy. Adults get accustomed to speaking for us—starting from our youngest ages, our parents order meals off the children’s menu for us and schedule our play dates. But when it comes to the books we read, they should not have to represent us. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of books I read by adults have somewhat realistic and multi-dimensional female teenage characters, but they don’t quite sound like us, they are using our voices because they are not authored by us. We girls are never going to see ourselves and our friends in the books we read if we don’t write them ourselves.
We cannot take our voices for granted. In fifth grade, Charlotte Bronte became the muse of my biography presentation. I pinned my hair back in a neat little bun, wore my mother’s long, cream-colored skirt and transported myself back to England in the 1800s. I was too young to appreciate her literary work fully, but nonetheless the tales of her magical, palm-sized books and secretive, gender-concealing pen names inspired me. Now, I am old enough to not only appreciate her writing, but her tenacity. Charlotte Bronte wrote in a hostile literary landscape, a landscape where women’s voices were silenced. She was one of many pioneer female authors who challenged the patriarchal publishing industry and ensured their voices were heard. Although female authors are significantly more recognized and published today, the literary landscape is still perceived as a place for old, white men. We girls need to step it up.
I became involved in writing at a young age, but it wasn’t until the end of elementary school that I began to thoroughly enjoy it. Writing allowed me to exercise my creativity and process the world. Once I became old enough, I signed up for workshops and summer camps at The Telling Room, a writing center for youth in Maine. Its mission is to share our voices with the world through writing and publishing. They see that kids can and should be authors—they get that when we share our writing with each other our love for reading and writing goes further because we can identify with one another in our stories and poems.
By eighth grade, my writing had moved on from stories about fairy princesses to personal poetry. That was the year I became a published author. My face exploded with excitement when I discovered that the poem I wrote was going to be published in The Telling Room’s annual anthology that year. It was thrilling to see my words printed in a real book by youth that was sold in bookstores. This year, I joined the Publishing Workshop at The Telling Room. We reviewed writing from young authors The Telling Room has worked with this past year and edited it to create a new collection, like the anthology where my poem was first published. At the book launch this year, I will have the pleasure of seeing the same thrill of being published on many girls’ faces.
Give a girl a pen and paper and she will build bridges and bust through ceilings. Our voices deserve to be heard. They also need to be. No one knows us better than we know ourselves, and we can write and share our own stories.
Siri Pierce has been writing and reading since she could hold a crayon in her hand, initially mostly about fairies. She is 16 years old and attends Casco Bay High School in Portland. In 2016, she won the Telling Room Writing Contest for her poem “Wings.” She serves as an Author Ambassador for the Telling Room and is a part of Portland Youth Dance, a dance company. She is also involved in her school’s environmental group. When she is not writing or dancing, she is probably snuggling with her dog, Talulabelle, or planning her week on a whiteboard.