Dear Diary: Literary teen journals that give us all the feels

What is it about a diary? Whether it’s real or fictional, reading a journal allows us to live someone else’s life, at least vicariously. We get the chance to become another person. And more often than not, it seems that dedicated diary-writer is a teen. Sometimes it’s a real teen who has endured real, heart-wrenching things and sometimes it’s a fictional teen, living a life we could only dream of, but either way, teens dominate this amazing little subgenre. Here’s a look at some of those literary teens who made us laugh, cry and everything in between.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Prefer

I’m the one not caring. I’m the one pretending the Earth isn’t shattering all around me because I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to know there was an earthquake in Missouri. I don’t want to know the Midwest can die, also, that what’s going on isn’t just tides and tsunamis. I don’t want to have any more to be afraid of.

I didn’t start this diary for it to be a record of death.

I wish I could buy a copy of this book for every single one of you who hasn’t read it yet. It’s that good. Written as the diary of Miranda Evans, Life As We Knew It is an account of a teen girl’s life after a meteor hits the moon and knocks it perilously close to earth. First come the tsunamis and the earthquakes, then volcanic ash, famine and flu epidemics. But what makes this book transcend other dystopian young adult fiction is the diary format itself. We see Miranda worry about the future of her town, her family and the world, but we also see her yearn for normal teen experiences—life and love—in the midst of a new, impossible world. Plus, you’ll never look at the moon quite the same way again.

Monster by Walker Dean Myers

I think to get used to this I will have to give up what I think is real and take up something else. I wish I could make sense of it. Maybe I could make my own movie. I could write it out and play it in my head. I could block out the scenes like we did in school. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll write it down in the notebook they let me keep. I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. Monster.

This one’s a bit of a heartbreaker. The main character, Steven Harmon, is a teen boy in juvenile detention and on trial for his (supposed) part in a convenience store robbery gone wrong. Steve is innocent. As a way to cope with life during the trial, he imagines he’s living in a movie instead of real life and chronicles the events in his journal, sometimes in screenplay form. At its heart, the book is about more than just his trial. It’s about how a single moment can alter the course of a lifetime and how so much of our identity is wrapped up in the way we’re seen by others as much as ourselves. 

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

Angus looked nice in his tinsel crown until it annoyed him and he ate it. When we had our lunch Mum made him a special mouse-shaped lunch in his bowl out of Kattomeat. He ate its head and then sat in it. Heaven knows what goes on in his cat brain.

Let’s decipher the title, shall we? Angus is the name of the main character Georgia Nicolson’s (super-rad) cat, snogging is Brit-speak for making out and thongs…well, that one’s pretty obvious. This hilarious book is Georgia’s journal, and (swoon!) it reads almost like a teen version of Bridget Jones’ Diary. With the added bonus of a cat. What’s not to love about that?

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Something in me wants more. I can’t rest. Without emotion I let him kiss me. The evening had been lovely, complete. I had been alone more than I could have been had I gone all by myself. The poor guy; there is no one nicer. Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.

Sylvia Plath was a literary genius. There, I said it. Her poetry is relentlessly brutal, and her one and only novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical account of an English major’s summer in New York interning at a fashion magazine, has been speaking straight to the hearts of readers for over fifty years. But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the experience of reading her Unabridged Journals. Plath began keeping a journal during the summer between her high school graduation and her freshman year at Smith College, and continued the habit with exquisite dedication until her tragic death at the age of thirty. The way her journal chronicles her fierce commitment to writing and her frustration about gender roles in society at the time she was becoming a woman is nothing short of fascinating.

Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? by Judy Blume

Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. What would you think of me doing a project on religion? You wouldn’t mind, would you God? I’d tell you all about it. And I won’t make any decisions without asking you first. I think it’s time for me to decide what to be. I can’t go on being nothing forever, can I?

While not technically a diary, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? reads like one since it’s written as a series of intimate conversations between the main character, Margaret Simon, and God. When it was first published in 1970, this book was completely revolutionary in the world of young adult literature. Reading it has become a rite of passage for generations of girls who struggle with changing bodies and what it means to be “normal.”

There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones

Just a short time in Ireland, yet I know I am forever changed…

—Travel Journal of Will Sinclair, Abbeyglen, Ireland

There You’ll Find Me follows high school senior Finley Sinclair to the emerald shores of Ireland, where she arrives for a semester studying abroad clutching her late brother’s travel journal. She’s determined to follow in his footsteps and visit all the places where he walked before his sudden death. Full disclosure: This is one of my fave YA books of all time. It brings all the feels, from swoony romance to aching sadness. And there’s even a circa 2008 Rob Pattinson-esque vampire actor heartthrob. For real.

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

When Anne Frank unwrapped the red-checkered autograph book she received for her thirteenth birthday and wrote her first journal entry inside, I wonder if she had any idea that one day her diary would be considered one of the most important books of the 20th century. Most assuredly not. Even Anne’s own father, when he read her handwritten pages after they were given to him along with the news of her death, called the diary a revelation. “There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.”

Therein lies the magic of a diary. Those pages hold our dearest secrets, the unspeakable thoughts, wishes and memories that are so much easier to write than to say out loud. Why? Perhaps as Anne Frank herself once said, “because paper has more patience than people.”

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