We have all gone through high school and know the kinds of things you can encounter there. Add to this the joys of being an adolescent when your body is changing daily and you have the experience of a typical high school student. However, sometimes a student wants desperately to be popular and will do almost anything to get there. Add to this the fact that this student has been the brunt of the girl who is the most popular. What if this same popular girl has a deep, dark secret that will stop her chances of being an Olympic hopeful? Carolyn Samuels on the first day of her freshman year in high school finds she cannot escape her enemy, the perfect and popular Jennifer Taylor. She figures the year will be a rerun of middle school when Jennifer taunted her every day for her breathing problem. Carolyn also doesn’t like her body and thinks her hair looks like “shriveled spaghetti”. Then an event changes everything. She finds that perfect Jennifer isn’t so perfect after all. Jennifer has been bullying her and now she has a way to stop it once and for all.
Bullying is a subject that is now being addressed by many schools. It has many forms and doesn’t need to be physical. There is emotional bullying that is relentless and hurtful. Such is the case with Carolyn and Jennifer. Carolyn is taunted by Jennifer, who repeats the phrase, “Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Carolyn never knows when Jennifer will say it to her and soon it becomes intolerable. Carolyn never says anything to anyone but her friends, Becky and Janie. But the bullying takes its toll and the first day of high school finds Carolyn unable to get out of bed for fear of facing Jennifer Taylor. Bullying can sap a student of their joy and will to live and in some cases it has been fatal. Students have been bullied both in school and out of school on social media like Facebook and a few have not been able to live with it. Being adolescents they didn’t tell anyone and instead took their own lives.
When I wrote this novel, I did not have the topic of bullying in mind, but as I thought about it I realized that my character had been bullied in middle school. So why does she want to be like this bully, Jennifer Taylor? What causes Carolyn to become friends with Jennifer and what does she learn? Now add into the mix Carolyn’s crush on Brad Morrow, the hot Junior quarterback, who is of course, Jennifer’s boyfriend. Yearning for Brad, Carolyn stumbles into a kind of friendship with Jennifer. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor is all about holding secrets and being popular. What will someone do to become popular and when is it not okay to keep a secret? Also what happens to your relationship with your old friends who have stood with you all the time?
Some high school students have to deal with problems at home. Such is the case with Lauren Walstein whose father calls home in the middle of the Mets game while he is having a heart attack. Everything in Lauren’s life changes after that phone call. Unlike Carolyn, she is an athlete. She pitches for her softball team and she is hoping for a scholarship to go to college. Also Lauren has a best friend who is a boy, Joey, who has been her BFF since kindergarten. Since they are so close, Lauren hasn’t really needed other friends. However, Joey has a mean girl friend Amber, who keeps Joey away from Lauren and she hasn’t seen him for awhile. On the night of the phone call Lauren calls Joey and he comes to the hospital to console her. During the time her father is in the hospital and subsequently needs bypass surgery, Joey is always there for Lauren. In school Lauren reconnects with an old girl friend who helps her through this time too. She also gets closer to her sister and her mother as they band together to help each other. Soon Lauren realizes her feelings for Joey might not be friend-like anymore. After is about Lauren’s life after the phone call and there is a sweet romance that doesn’t make Joey’s girlfriend Amber happy at all. In the process of dealing with her father’s illness, Lauren learns there is more to life than softball and the Mets.
I actually took the story of After from my own husband’s hospitalization and a lot of the dialogue and events of the story come from my own experience. A lot of the time students go through life events such as a parent’s illness and really have no way to deal with it. As Lauren deals with the fact that her father is seriously ill she learns who she can trust and what is really important to her.
Barbara Ehrentreu grew up in Brooklyn and moved to Queens. She has lived and taught in Long Island, Buffalo, NY and Westchester, NY as well as a year in Los Angeles, CA. She has a Masters Degree in Reading and Writing K-12. Currently she is retired from teaching and living in Stamford, CT with her family. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor won second prize in Preditors & Editors as Best Young Adult Book for 2011. It was inspired by Paula Danziger for her children’s writing workshop at Manhattanville College. Her second book, After, considers what can happen to a teen when her father becomes ill with a heart attack. It is based on her own experiences when her husband had a heart attack and the aftermath of what she and her family experienced. She is preparing the sequel to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor. Barbara also writes poetry and several of her poems are published in the anthologies, Prompted: An International Collection of Poetry, Beyond the Dark Room, Storm Cycle and Backlit Barbell. She has a blog, Barbara’s Meanderings, and she hosts a radio show on Blog Talk Radio, Red River Radio Tales from the Pages, once a month. She is a member of PEN Letters and SCBWI.
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If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor: (print and ebook)
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