Tuesday, April 26, 2011
A High School Cafeteria's Complicated Dynamic
There's at least one cafeteria scene in most YA books, which makes sense because many of the more complicated teen social intricacies call the high school cafeteria home. I think it's important for YA writers to remember how important this scene is to teen life - and to remember the complicated dynamic involved.
I had almost forgotten what the high school cafeteria was like until the other day when I ate in my workplace's cafeteria. (I usually work nights so it's quite different during the day.) At my work, every single employee - from the Big Man to the janitor - eats in the cafeteria. I sat watching them one day and realized how many similarities there are to the high school scene.
One department is made up of mostly good-looking females - these are definitely like the nice popular girls in HS. They have perfect hair and pretty shoes and (almost) everyone wishes they could sit at their table. If someone who "doesn't belong" sits there, they may toss out a polite question or two but then an awkward silence falls over the table until lunch is over.
Then there are the higher-up level managers, like the boys who run the school - except these guys literally run things. They can dress how they want, talk to whomever they want, say what they want. Because what they do defines what is cool for everyone else.
And the mean girls? They're definitely there. Like the ones who cheated off of you in biology but refused to acknowledge your presence outside of the classroom, these chicks will bat their eyelashes and ask for a favor - but in the lunch room? You may as well be one of the uncomfortable chairs.
These are the ones that hurt the most: The ones who used to work/hang out with you; you've joked with them and spent a lot of time together. Then they "moved up." Now they give you a guilty half-smile or nod while they pass right by your table to go sit with one of the groups mentioned above.
And then there's me. The new girl. Again. Sitting alone in the corner. Hoping someone will show some interest, invite me to sit at their table or even ditch their usual group to sit with me.
But they don't.
(And here's the difference between now and High School: I understand why.) Because they're afraid. What if he invites me to sit with his friends and I'm really weird and he'll forever be known as the one who invited that weird girl to sit with them? What if I turn out to be way cooler than her (pssh!) and I become the queen bee of the group?
So when writing about this complicated dynamic, it's important to remember to think about everyone's motivations - even if you don't spell them out for the reader.
What "table" did you belong to in high school?
14th -- Jennifer Galasso
16th -- Chris Bedell
22nd -- Rosanne Rivers
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