Crossovers: It Happened to Me

Jon and David Kushner
David and Jon Kushner

Earlier this year, journalist David Kushner published his eloquent memoir, Alligator Candy. At the core of his story is a terrible crime. When Kushner was just four-years-old, he watched his older brother, Jon, ride away on his bicycle, never to return. Jon’s mutilated body was found later. At first, Kushner is a confused small boy missing his brother, fearing that he could have prevented the crime had he not requested candy from the store. Then, as a thirteen-year-old boy, he secretly begins reading accounts from the newspapers on microfilm at the library. There were details that he couldn’t have even imagined as a four-year-old boy.

After publishing several books and articles as an adult, Kushner was ready to write about Jon’s disappearance and murder. As part of his research, he received access to police records. He discovers details that are so horrific that he wonders how his family survived.  Kushner also realizes that while Jon’s disappearance and murder devastated his family, the entire community was deeply affected by the violence of the crime.

Memoirs, by definition, are collected memories of a person’s life. Unsurprisingly, memoirs are most often written when the author is older, as in Alligator Candy. But his story speaks directly to a teen’s experience. There are numerous memoirs written by adults that look back on their teen years. Here are a couple of examples that have won Alex Awards:

The Terrorist’s Son: A story of choice by Zak Ebrahim (2015 Alex Award Winner)

In 1993, radical Islamic terrorists plotted to bomb the World Trade Center. One of these despised, shadowy terrorist was the father of Zak Ebrahim, who was just a boy at the time. (You can find Zak’s TED Talk here.)

Breaking Night: A memoir of forgivness, survival, and my journey from homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray (2011 Alex Award Winner)

At fifteen, Liz was foraging on the street, riding subways all night to stay warm. When her mother, a drug addict, dies of AIDs, Liz made the decision to start high school and forge her own destiny.

alligator candy terrorists son breaking night

Sometimes the stories are particularly relevant for teen readers and are published for young adults.

This Star Won’t Go Out: The life and words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, Lori Earl, Wayne Earl, and John Green.

Nerdfighter Esther reflects on the mercilessness cancer, and how the knowledge that she would die inspired her to life. Her humor and intelligence attracted many friends, including the novelist John Green, who dedicated The Fault in our Stars to her. Here is Green’s vlog post to here.

Rethinking Normal: a memoir in transition by Katie Rain Hill

Katie is open about her male-to-female transition, providing support  for teens going through their own transgender journey and advice for those who love them. Katie can be seen here with Arin Andrews, author of the memoir, Some Assembly Required:The not-so-secret life of a teen transgender.

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon

At fourteen, Brent came home from school, put on a gasoline-soaked bathrobe and sat in his bathtub. Then he lit a match. His story of physical and emotional recovery is tough but essential reading. More from Runyon can be found here.

this star won't go out rethinking normal burn journals

For more good memoir suggestions, check out the nomination site for the 2017 Popular Paperbacks topic: Biography: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.

— Diane Colson, currently reading Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff