When We Say YA: August Edition

This month, many of us head back to school as teachers, PTO volunteers, or even students. So I asked my fellow One Fours what their favorite school-based scene is in a YA novel (including their own). Here’s what they said:

I love the scenes in ELEANOR AND PARK on the school bus. The way the proximity of the bus seat becomes something different for both Eleanor and Park as the book progresses is a beautiful thing. On a personal level, I suppose my favorite school scenes to write with Madelyn for DREAM BOY were set in the cafeteria. It’s such a hub of school life–with all the swirl of social hierarchy and ritual. There’s a lot to play with. All that aside, my favorite school room in my real high school was definitely the band room. I was such a band geek. Hmmmm… Maybe I should work some band scenes into the story I’m writing now.

– Mary Crockett, DREAM BOY

One of my favorite scenes in a school is when Anne Shirley breaks a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head, and then when the teacher makes her copy lines on the chalkboard, she boldly corrects the teacher’s spelling of her name before complying. I still wish I had half as much courage as Anne. For my own book, my favorite school scene takes place in the girls’ bathroom, where Julep starts a salacious rumor to trick a popular girl into going to a formal with a nerdy guy. Very different scene from Anne’s, but shows a similar gumption and determination to be exactly who you are, despite society’s attempts to force young women to conform to “acceptable behavior.”

– Mary Elizabeth Summer, TRUST ME, I’M LYING

My new favorite scene in a YA book is the poker game in the latter half of the book, WINGER, by Andrew Smith. It involves five poker players, a bottle of bourbon smuggled in to their dorm room, a gatorade bottle full of pee, and a boy with an issue to settle. I have never laughed so hard as when I read this scene. It’s disgusting, gross, and boy perfect.

-Jaye Robin Brown, NO PLACE TO FALL

I’m just going to say it: Bella playing volleyball in gym class from Stephenie Meyer’s TWILIGHT. Oh, the awkwardness. Brings back memories…and not necessarily good ones.

-Lisa Maxwell, SWEET UNREST

I have always loved the scene in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE when Holden is talking about his speech class. Whenever a student is giving a speech and gets off topic, the students and teacher would say “digression” and completely fluster the poor student giving the speech. As a teacher, I’ve always wanted to yell “digression” when a student digresses, but I think that would do more to damage the speaker than to help him/her.

-Chris Struyk-Bonn, WHISPER

My favorites were always the Divination scenes in the HARRY POTTER books. Especially the ones in PRISONER OF AZKABAN. So vividly described, and I always felt like Harry was at his snarkiest best in Divination.


The first scenes that come to mind are the bus scenes in ELEANOR & PARK. There are plenty of other scenes in YA novels that relate to hallways and cafeterias, bathrooms and classrooms, but that image of Eleanor walking down the aisle looking for a seat will stay with me forever. Part of that may be due to my time on the county’s Safe Schools Advisory Council, where I worked against both passive and active bullying to try to create a more inclusive school environment throughout the school division, but honestly, I think Rainbow Rowell just did a fabulous job with all those bus scenes. The music room scenes in Jandy Nelson’s THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE are also brilliant. But my favorite? That “cranny” scene in Karou’s art class in the Prague Lyseum in DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. For sheer brilliance of introducing plot, character, and world, you don’t get much better than that. But also? Using wishes to make a narcissistic ex-boyfriend’s butt itch uncontrollably while he’s posing in the nude for your art class in the hope of getting you back? Um. YES! So original, and so much fun!

– Martina Boone, COMPULSION

It’s hard to pick a favorite school scene from one of my all-time favorite books, but the opening of Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL would do for starters. In strolls Stargirl Caraway on her first day of eleventh grade, dressed in an off-white, floor-length dress with ruffles that “looked like her grandmother’s wedding gown.” She carries a ukulele on her back, and while everyone in the cafeteria watches spellbound, she pulls it out and begins strumming “I’m looking over a four-leaf clover that I overlooked before.” Then there’s silence and the sound of one person clapping: the lunchroom cashier. It just gets better and better with every page, and totally heartbreaking after the excitement of her eccentricities dies down and she is shunned. But in his inimitable way, Spinelli celebrates individualism and hope on every page.

-Linda Vigen Phillips, CRAZY

Like Mary Elizabeth Summer, I love the scene in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES where Anne Shirley breaks the slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head, but even more than that amazing scene, I love the scenes in later books when Anne has grown up to be the kind of teacher beloved and respected by her students, because she never lost that strong spirit that always defined Anne Shirley. (Yes, I’ve read the entire series, many times.) … On a personal level, my favorite school scenes to write for TWELVE STEPS were the history class scenes between Andi and Dave, and their teacher, Mr. Mayer. The teacher is a cross between my favorite high school teacher, and two of my high school friends who now teach history classes, so of course he made me smile. But the best part of writing those scenes was watching Andi’s secret love of history–and her determination to succeed at all costs–peek through her “I couldn’t care less about school” mask.

–Veronica Bartles, TWELVE STEPS

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since age eight (though his first few were admittedly very short). His debut YA science fiction novel SURVIVAL COLONY NINE will be published in September 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Josh likes (in no particular order) gorillas, frogs, monsters, and human beings.

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