Dear Teen Me with Melissa Hart, author of Avenging the Owl

Avenging the Owl author, Melissa Hart, writes a letter to her teen self. Check it out below!

Dear Teen Melissa,

I’m writing to you from my tiny writing studio in my big backyard full of purple lilacs and blossoming cherry trees and cats. Remember what you loved about your grandmother’s house in Monterey—all those tall trees, the birds chirping, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees? You have all that now, plus an amazing photographer husband and a nature-crazy nine-year-old adopted daughter.

I know you thought you’d never make it this far. I remember the year you turned sixteen, and your home life fell apart. Your dad yelled and raged. Your stepmother lost herself in aerobics classes. Your beautiful house near LAX felt full of anger and betrayal, too much wine and too many tears, and you couldn’t run away to your mother’s house because she’d lost custody of you seven years before—for coming out as a lesbian in a homophobic era when a judge believed it was better to place kids in an abusive household than one headed by two women.

But remember the UCLA Young Writers’ Retreat up at Lake Arrowhead? You got to go after your English teachers saw how you loved to write—short stories, poetry, even those silly profiles you wrote for the school yearbook about sports teams and drama club. Suddenly, you found yourself surrounded by teen writers in cabins among tall trees, and it was snowing . . . snowing! The teachers leading the retreat instructed you all to find a quiet place to write for an hour. Most of the kids stayed inside near the fire, but you zipped up your coat and headed outside up a hill, away from everyone.

Young Writers Retreat

Young Writers’ Retreat

How I wish I could convey how that hour was a life-changer for you, Melissa. You stood in the trees with your notebook, and silent snowflakes fell all around you . . . about as different from your father’s smoggy little backyard as a place could get. You felt peaceful. More than that, you felt wholly yourself. You wrote a poem that day . . . I probably have it in my giant box of spiral-bound notebooks you filled in high school and college. (Note to teen self: Read Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones sooner, rather than later, okay?) But more than the poem, what mattered that hour was that you discovered who you wanted to be . . . a writer, and a woman with an intimate connection to the natural world.

Yeah, okay, so later that night, you met a boy. He was cute and mischievous, just the way you liked them, and you stayed up all night talking in his dormitory hallway about creative writing and The Dead Kennedys, his favorite band. (Later, you’d listen to them and decide that hardcore punk wasn’t your thing—you’d stick to The Beatles and The Smiths.) You two didn’t kiss, but you exchanged letters for a couple of months until you met another boy at yearbook camp who wrote funnier letters and knew how to spell.

When you got home that Sunday night, the snow just a memory and a dampness in your sneakers, nothing between your parents had changed. You stepped into the living room thick with tension and tried to tell your stepmother about your weekend with the teen writers. She didn’t believe you’d ever make it as a professional writer; neither did your father. But you had the support of your mother and your English and yearbook teachers, and your friends. You sought out mentors, and you never stopped believing in your love of language and story.

Yearbook Girls

Yearbook Girls

Dear Teen Melissa, I’m so glad you learned to compartmentalize early on. Home life was home life, and school was school. You walked along the railroad tracks at dawn five days a week, sat in first period wide awake and thrilled to be learning. You ran track, danced and sang in the drama club, played practical jokes with your friends. (I wonder, did the principal ever find out who stacked all the school trashcans in a pyramid on his office roof?) You learned early on to “accentuate the positive,” like that old song says. You allowed yourself to fall in love with life—with the miniscule vegetable garden you managed to coax from your father’s tiny backyard; with the starlings splashing in puddles on the rare days it rained; with boys who loved writing and acting and pranks; with your big orange cat and your running shoes and all those blank notebooks full of possibility.

Hang in there, Teen Me. Take all the classes in literature and creative writing (don’t forget poetry!) that you can. Take theater classes and music classes. Learn everything you can about other cultures, about history, about people. Most importantly, get outside. Don’t stay on your computer all day. Don’t lose yourself in television. Know what phase the moon is in every single night. Know the names of the trees in your backyard, the birds at your feeders, the mountain ranges in your adopted state of Oregon. Nature will save you. Writing will save you. Good luck.

Love, Melissa

Melissa and Richard

Melissa and Richard

Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart

9781634501477-frontcoverA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo avenged the destruction of an innocent planet by helping Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star. Han walked away with a gold medal and the love of his life. But when Solo Hahn—named in honor of the beloved action hero—tries to avenge the death of his gray-and-white kitten, he gets eight months of community service. Eight months of working at the local raptor center helping owls—his now sworn enemies.

For the first time in his life, Solo is labeled a troubled kid, an at-risk youth. He’d always gotten good grades, had good friends, and gotten along with his parents. He used to volunteer to read Reader’s Digest to old people at the retirement home next door, and his favorite thing in the whole wide world was to surf. He wrote screenplays for fun. But when his parents uproot him and move the family from California to backwoods Oregon, Solo starts to lose track of the person he was. Everything is upside down, and he finds himself dealing with things way beyond his understanding. He’s the new kid in town, and he’s got a bad reputation. The question is: What will he do next?

This is a story about staying true to yourself when things get tough. Solo has every reason to lash out, but he ultimately needs to find a way to cope. Avenging the Owl deals with the difficult issues of suicide and depression, but more than anything it captures the powerlessness of being a kid. It won’t be easy, but the wild beauty of Oregon, its cold, empty beaches and captivating wildlife, may be just what Solo and his family need to help them start over.



Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl, as well as the YA memoir Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, and a memoir for adults. She’s a contributing editor at The Writer Magazine and teaches Literature and Creative Writing for Laurel Springs High School. Follow her on Instagram at @WildMelissaHart .



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Dear Teen Me with Ava Jae, author of Beyond the Red

Ava Jae, author of Beyond the Red writes a Dear Teen Me letter. Check it out below!


16-year-old Ava didn’t take many selfies, so maybe those school pictures came in handy after all. 

Dear Teen Me,

The good news about the divorce is you’ll never blame yourself. You know from the day Mom sits you down at 13 to tell you your life as a kid with two parents who live in the same house is over, exactly who’s fault it is, and you know, very clearly, it’s not yours.

Unfortunately, for a long time, that’s about the only good news.

I’m going to be honest with you, the next six years are going to be rough. You, your two sisters, and your mom are going to move into your grandma’s tiny two bedroom home for a summer—the one that’s about the size of your previous home’s kitchen and living room. You’re going to be The Strong One your sisters look up to, and you think being The Strong One is temporary, and it is—as long as you consider six years temporary.

About a week before you start your new school, you’ll finally move in to your new home. It’s larger than your grandma’s, but nowhere near what Used to Be. It’s small, and creaky, and the radiators are unreliable, and there isn’t air conditioning, but you won’t care. It’s home.

Your new school is nothing like your old one, but you are nothing like the old you, so it’s okay. You’ll retreat into yourself and into books, and that’s okay because it’ll lead to the one really, really awesome thing about your teen years: you’ll figure out you want to be an author. It’ll be a little over ten years before that dream comes true, but Future You is in your debt, 13, because your job is pretty amazing now.

I wish I could tell you things are going to get easier quickly, 13, but the next six years will be anything but. You’ll learn what it’s like to worry about not being able to pay the bills long before you get your first job. You’ll learn what it’s like to develop an anxiety disorder on your 16th birthday, like a superpower but not nearly as cool or fun, and even though you’ll ace AP Psych, you won’t recognize the symptoms in yourself until after you’ve nearly left those teen years behind. You’ll also learn what it’s like to experience stomach acrobatics when you hear the words “I think we might lose the house,” and you’ll learn what it’s like to smile and pretend everything is okay for your sisters when your world is crumbling around you.

Dear 13, there will come a time when you won’t be able to visit your father anymore, because it hurts too much to go back to your old town, with old friends you can’t see, and be surrounded by his very nice house, with his very nice new things, and see again, and again, and again, the widening gap between What Was and What Is, between What Is for Him and What Is for You. There will come a time when visiting just makes you angry, and bitter, and it’s too painful for you to take anymore. He’s going to tell you it’s not okay when you stop visiting, 13, but you’re just taking care of yourself, and that’s all that matters. You won’t learn this for a while yet, but taking care of yourself first is more than okay—it’s essential.

Those six years are going to be really, really hard, 13, but I promise you’ll all come out of this okay. You’ll all recover slowly, a day at a time, and you’ll remember what it’s like to not have to worry quite so much. You’ll learn how to put yourself first again, and though you won’t be able to reclaim those years, you’ll finally be able to do those things you should have been doing as a teen, like realizing skirts and long hair really aren’t your thing (that’s okay too, by the way. You’ll rock that pixie cut).

Dear 13, you’re going to get what you want most: you’ll see your words published in an actual book you can hold in your hands, and you’ll be happy and so proud of a thing you made. Things are rough right now, 13, and they’re going to be for a while. But you’re going to get through it, and when you come out on the other side, you’ll be stronger, and happier, and your YA book collection will be really quite impressive, at least to you.

You’ll do all right, 13. That, I can promise you.





17-year-old Ava wasn’t sure how this pic happened, but the results were accidentally fun.

Beyond the Red by Ava Jae


Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.


Jae, Ava -- Beyond the Red

Ava Jae is a writer, an Assistant Editor at Entangled Publishing, and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, is releasing March 1, 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, Goodreads, Instagram, or YouTube channel.

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Dear Teen Me with Stephanie Strohm, author of The Taming of the Drew

Author of The Taming of the Drew, Stephanie Strohm writes a Dear Teen Me letter. Check it out below!

Dear Teen Me,

Congratulations! You did it! You have found your people. I know you are so happy to be playing Lady Larkin in Once Upon a Mattress, and so happy to be spending all of your time with the other self-proclaimed drama dorks. You finally feel like you have a place you belong, and I know how much this means to you, because even when you are twenty-nine, you will still remember the choreography to “I’m in Love with a Girl Named Fred.” (You really didn’t need to hold onto that, Teen Stephanie.)

Enjoy it. This is the second-to-last musical you’ll ever do, because you’re about to decide you’re too “serious” of an actress for anything involving a time step. So for now, sing your little soprano heart out, produce the jazziest jazz hands ever, and relish every whispered bit of gossip backstage about who likes who. And take more pictures with Caitlin, because in about a decade, you’ll be her bridesmaid, and she’ll be yours, and those pictures of the two of you in medieval garb are hilarious. You’ve got one on your fridge in Chicago right now.

Also? Stop blotting the grease off the free pizza you get during tech week. Or throwing the crust away even though it’s your favorite part. I know you’re scared that you can never be a real actress. That you’re not pretty enough, good enough, thin enough. But you know what? No one but you cares how thin you looked or didn’t look in your costume. And you looked adorable, dummy.

yankees Stephanie in Damn Yankees

I’m glad you found an escape from the high school agony you’re constantly writing about in your diary, which can be summed up neatly into two categories: “I’m too fat to be a real actress” and “I’ve never had a boyfriend.” Most boyfriends are overrated, Teen Stephanie! But I’m sorry you feel like your life is only happening on stage. So what if your first kiss was with a gay Phantom of the Opera? So what if you’ve never kissed anyone offstage? I promise, it’s fine! Next year you’ll do a play at an all-boys’ school, and seriously, Teen Stephanie, you should have hit that up earlier. So stop worrying about when that first kiss will finally happen. It’s coming. I wish you could just enjoy being onstage with your friends now, instead of worrying about whether or not these guys you’ve barely talked to think you’re cute, or whether or not you can make it as an actress.

Because guess what—you did it. You’re a theater major in college, and you move to New York because you get cast in an off-Broadway show. People actually pay you to act. In twenty-two different states! It’s not always glamorous, and you end up playing way more amphibians than you ever thought you would, but you did it. You are a professional actor. And no, you didn’t get super skinny. Turns out, you can be a working actor even if you don’t have super prominent clavicles.

Here’s the plot twist, though—that unexpected Act V Hamlet never saw coming—you kind of . . . decide you don’t want to act anymore. There’s a moment, when you’ll be sitting backstage at a Chekhov show, when you realize that you’re actually having more fun in the dressing room than you were on stage. That’s the moment when you realize you’ve fallen totally, completely, head over heels in love, and no, it’s not with the man playing your husband in the show. (You broke that pesky castmate-smooching habit a long time ago when you fell for a guy working in the development office at a theater you performed at in Florida. And love is even better than it seems in musicals, even if he hates dancing. You’re getting married in September, and yes, your wedding is in a barn, but there will be no horses in attendance. Sorry, Teen Stephanie.)

Surprise—you’ve fallen in love with writing. Yeah, remember that thing you wanted to do when you were in fourth grade? Just like Jo March? Guess what? You did that too! You wrote a book! You wrote multiple books! And you realize more and more that you love writing, that you love creating your own worlds, and even thought it makes you feel bad to admit it, you like having a job where no one cares what you look like. Where most people don’t even know what you look like. And you are going to feel so bad about leaving theater. You are going to feel like you’ve given up on your dream, like you’re failing all of your acting teachers, like you’re just the same as every other wannabe actor who couldn’t make it. But you know what? You haven’t failed. Dreams change. You haven’t seen Tangled, because it doesn’t exist yet, but it’s going to be your favorite Disney movie. And when Rapunzel goes out and gets a new dream, you’ll know just how she feels. Because you have a new dream, too.

Oh, and you still put way too much stock in Disney movies. But you actually get to work as a Disney princess, so I think that’s okay.

Keep dreaming big, Teen Me. All those dreams are going to come true. And eat the damn pizza crust.



The Taming of the Drew by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Taming of the Drew_REVISEDCass McKay has been called stubborn, temperamental, difficult, and that word that rhymes with “witch” more times than she cares to count. But that’s all about to pay off. She has finally landed the role she was born to play—Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew—in the summer apprentice program of a renowned Shakespeare theater company in the forests of Vermont.

But Cass can barely lace up her corset before her troubles begin. Her leading man, Drew, is a complete troll, and he’s going to ruin Cass’s summer. Even worse, Cass’s bunkmate Amy has somehow fallen head over heels for Drew. Cass can’t let Amy throw herself at a total jerk, so she comes up with a genius plan to give Drew the personality makeover he so desperately needs: they’ll tame Drew just as Petruchio tames Kate! But as Shakespeare’s classic plays out offstage, Cass finds it harder and harder to resist falling for Drew herself.

The best kind of entertainment, The Taming of the Drew is smart, funny, fresh, and original. You’re going to love this badass heroine and her friends. You might even end up liking Drew, too.



Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of The Taming of the Drew, Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink, Confederates Don’t Wear Couture and the upcoming It’s Not Me, It’s You and Prince in Disguise. She graduated from Middlebury College with a dual degree in theater and history and has acted her way around the United States, performing in more than twenty-five states. She currently lives in Chicago with her fiance and a dog named Lorelei Lee.  Visit her online at, follow her on Twitter @stephkatestrohm, and like her on Facebook at




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