Teen Tells All About Junior High
LATOYA HUNTER knows what it's like to grow up in urban America today - she's smack in the middle of it.Skip to next paragraph
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"When you're young, your opinion doesn't count. I think that's the hardest part," says this teenage author during a recent interview at her home just north of New York City.
This month, Latoya's opinions about everything from school to politics will gain a wide audience when the diary she kept as a 12-year-old seventh-grader is published.
"The Diary of Latoya Hunter: My First Year in Junior High" provides a rare peek into the thoughts and emotions of a young student.
During the year, Latoya endures school, witnesses a fatal shooting across from her house, escapes from a man trying to lure her into his car with money, participates in her brother's wedding, and gains a nephew when her unwed sister has a baby.
"I don't think I would have had the money to go to college if it wasn't for this book," says Latoya, a shy, soft-spoken teenager dressed in a bright shirt, jeans, gold-hoop earrings, and polka-dot sneakers.
Born on the island of Jamaica, Latoya joined her parents in the United States when she was in the third grade. She's always loved reading and writing.
"When she was one-year-old I would come in and find her writing with little papers in her crib," says Latoya's mother, Linneth Hunter, whose lilting Caribbean accent reveals the family's background.
When she graduated from sixth grade, Latoya received an award for "best writer." "The world is waiting for Latoya Hunter," her teacher said.
After reading a New York Times article on the graduation ceremonies at Latoya's school, an editor at Crown Publishers took an interest in this "best writer." He contacted Latoya's teacher and requested some samples of her writing. He liked what he saw and proposed that Latoya keep a diary of her first year in junior high - for publication.
In the time that it takes to transform a diary into a book, Latoya has turned 14, graduated from junior high to high school, and moved from the Bronx to nearby Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Many American students wouldn't be willing to make their personal diary public. "It was hard at first," Latoya says about being honest in her diary entries. "I think I was kind of holding back."
Even though she knew everyone would read it eventually, Latoya wrote about her relationships and conflicts with family, friends, teachers, and boyfriends. (Some of the names were changed in the book.) No one other than the editors read her diary before publication.
"I tried to glance when she just started," Mrs. Hunter says. "And she said, `You're not supposed to look.' So I'm looking forward [to reading it]."
During the interview at their home, Latoya and her mother got their first look at the finished book jacket. Reading a description of the book, Latoya's mother fights off tears of pride and anxious anticipation. "I hope you only said nice things," she tells her daughter.
Latoya squirms. "At least now she'll know how I felt, how I feel," she says after her mother leaves the room. Latoya says her mother is too strict and just doesn't understand what it's like to be young.
She hopes that adults like her mother will read her book. "I think it will help them understand their kids more.... We're just discovering who we really are. But while we're doing it we try to please people."