Kelly Milner Halls takes the simplest equation—1+1=2—and brings it to a bright new level. As the editor of Girl Meets Boy, an anthology of short stories examining the sometimes awkward, sometimes tender and sometimes toxic path to young love a couple might experience, she has stockpiled a roster of 12 lauded writers (including herself) and produced six pairs of he-said/she-said love stories.
Proving true the old adage that there are two sides to every story, each pair of stories gives the male point of view and the accompanying female perspective on the same scenario. Here, Halls reveals her process, applauds the talents of her team and admits just which romance she’d really like to get to the bottom of.
How did you initiate this project?
I sought out writers known for writing powerful, honest YA literature—writers who didn't hide from the truth, however they saw it. Most of the writers featured in the collection were writers I'd read and written about as a journalist. I had a deep respect and appreciation for the people they were and what they'd written.
Then I matched the writers that felt to me like potentially brilliant collaborators (only one pairing changed after the initial teams were formed). The pairs decided who would write the lead story and who would respond to that lead story. But the second writer was absolutely free to take the second voice in any direction they desired. They were not limited to the first writer's perspective in any way, unless they felt creatively drawn to a similar path.
How heavy handed were you in your editing process?
I was not heavy handed at all, and neither was the editorial team at Chronicle Books. I picked these writers with purpose because I knew how talented they were. I wanted their voices, not my own. And I wanted them to write about male/female relationships as they might define them, not as I did.
As a result, their stories are bold and honest and so moving. They're professionals—the best of the best. They didn't need heavy editorial help. They needed freedom. Chronicle was willing to give them that, and I'm grateful.
Are these stories translatable for types of teens who aren’t necessarily represented here?
I hope so. I really do. Because not all of us are gay and not all of us are straight and not all of us are transgendered. And not all of us are Native American or black or white. But we all know shame, and we all know loneliness and pain and longing. We all know what it feels like to be abused, and we all have that desire to rise above that victimization.
I think those are such universal themes that I can’t imagine that a reader who really is looking to be touched couldn’t find something in there. High school’s such a strange place for all of us because it’s such a pivotal time, trying to decide who we’re going be. All of us remember high school in such a bittersweet kind of way that I have yet to see a discerning reader who has seen a well-written young adult story and not said this is not just for teenagers, it’s for any of us who have been teenagers.
Two stories touch on LGBT points of view. Have you considered spearheading a similar collection specifically for this audience?
Yes, my best friend in college was gay. I watched him ache for the chance to fall in love. I watched him endure an abusive early relationship. And I watched him die of AIDS, long before his time. I know, from loving him, how hard it can be to navigate romance as a member of the LGBT community in the United States.
So yes, I'd love to compile that collection, in his memory and for kids growing up the way he did. We haven't represented the lesbian experience [in this book] unfortunately. I invited two prominent authors known for their authentic work in lesbian fiction, but they were unable to participate. I regret that enormously. I would also like to have had more writers of color, but again, not everyone on my wish list was available.
What epic he-said/she-said story would you like to get to the bottom of?
If I had to pick one, and I wasn't limited to teen figures of fact or fiction, I'd love gifted writers to tackle what really happened between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. That would undoubtedly get us all in trouble, but it would be an intriguing pair of stories I'd absolutely love to read.
I think you could get away with a biblical story because it’s not hard fact. You could really step into that, the way the Bible tells stories, because no one was there, no one could counter it. I don’t mean to imply the Bible is fiction, especially not to the people who draw comfort from its pages. But because so much is left unsaid, it would give creative writers a lot of room for speculation, in terms of personal relationships, even following the traditional path of each story.
The idea of great YA writers tackling those stories fascinates me—and it’d be interesting to see what the religious right did with a book that was based on their book. We’d get in so much trouble, but there’s so many [stories in the Bible] you could sink your teeth into. We’ll see if I can find someone brave enough to tackle that one...
Gordon West is a writer and illustrator living in Greenpoint Brooklyn, N.Y. When he's not diving headfirst into teen literature, he's writing, drawing (WallaceWest.com), observing (ITakeMyCameraEverywhereIGo.com) or scouring the culinary landscape for gluten-free fare. His beagle mix, Sammy Joe, is supportive of all endeavors.