Written by Holly Bourne


Wish I’d known

Hindsight’s a marvellous thing, isn’t it? Holly Bourne, acclaimed author of young adult books, has a word with her teenage self.

girl sitting in doorway“If only I could go back to school, knowing what I know now,” is an oft-heard phrase. As an author of young adult books, it’s something I’m confronted with more than most. My career essentially requires me to stay in a permanent state of adolescence. Regrets from my teen years spring from the shallow (Why, oh why did I insist on wearing that pentagram necklace?) to the biggies (Why did I let them treat me that way?).

Before I start a new book, I always force myself to reread my teen diaries to get back into that headspace of being young and legally obliged to go to secondary school. Half the time I want to reach into the scrawled pages and shake my 16-year-old self to tell her the following:

There’s this thing called feminism. It helps!

I was unlucky enough to hit puberty in the feminism nuclear fallout that was the 90s. So I didn’t have a word for how I felt when the boys, during a rainy lunchtime, lined us up in order of who had the nicest arse. Or how to handle my body getting mauled and pinched at the local underage disco. Or how to handle being called frigid because I was still a virgin, while the girls who weren’t were called sluts.

I didn’t have a word for the questions I had about why we only read books written by men during GCSE English. Or why we weren’t allowed to wear trousers to school. I wish I’d had feminism. I certainly needed it.

“You’ll waste valuable hours of your life, thinking, ‘I wish he looked at me, the way he looks at his bong.’”

Stop slouching and look after your back.

Because, one day, when you’re about 27, suddenly it starts hurting and then it never, ever stops.

Female friends are allies, not competition.

So many of my diary entries were just scathing, envious attacks on other girls. So-and-so is prettier than me. So-and-so has more boys fancy her than me. So-and-so did better in her art homework.

It took not only my teens but most of my 20s to realise that I am not in competition with other women. I’ve just been brainwashed into thinking that I am. That someone being pretty doesn’t make me unpretty. That their being clever doesn’t make me dumber. That there isn’t a limited amount of success for girls that we have to claw each other’s eyes out for.

The world is ours for the taking, and, together, we can carve out space for every girl who wants some. That together we are stronger.

Wayne’s World isn’t an aspirational romance film.

Just because you like listening to Alice Cooper, doesn’t mean your romantic fishing pool needs to be limited to boys who like listening to Alice Cooper. Yes, in Wayne’s World, dating metal fans looks cool – to be the Cassandra to Wayne, the Foxy to Garth.

girl making metal horns signBut in reality, you’ll just spend most of your precious youth watching boys do bongs and play in bands. You’ll waste valuable hours of your life, thinking, “I wish he looked at me, the way he looks at his bong.” And the most romantic thing that happens to you under the age of 18 is when his face lands on your lap after he whities.

Don’t henna your hair and then dye it blonde afterwards.

There are worse things in life than having green hair, yes. But these harder things are much, much easier to deal with if you don’t have accidental green hair. That takes two years to grow out. And everyone calls you ‘Pond Head’.

You can stand up for something and the world won’t end.

It’s taken me so long to be brave. So long to be the sort of person who calls someone out on a sexist joke, to disagree at a dinner table, to just… go there when everything I’ve ever been taught is put up, shut up, pipe down.

I’ve realised the universe won’t implode if someone calls me a killjoy, or rolls their eyes when I’ve honked my feminism horn once again. And I wish I’d learned this sooner. It’s why I write books that I hope will help teens learn this sooner. Because a lot of what I regret as a teenager isn’t what I did, but all the bad things I saw where I didn’t do anything.

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne (published by Usborne) is out now.


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Written by Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne is the author of bestselling YA novels Soulmates, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting and Am I Normal Yet? She has received widespread acclaim for her portrayal of mental health and the day-to-day struggles of teen life.