I truly believe that ’80s music is going to save the world. You laugh, but I’m serious. ’80s music wants you to dance and not apologize for it. ’80s music wants you to do a lot of things without apologizing. It wants you to be fearless in the face of all your worries and shortcomings. It wants you to be romantic without reason, but with all the passion you can muster. Think of great rock stars like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and Joan Jett. They’re all romantic, lonely souls who sing like the words they’re singing are the last ones anyone will ever need to hear. ’80s music is urgent and foolish and dreamy. ’80s music is truly an honest representation of what it’s like to be young and live in a recklessly hopeful world.
My favorite word in the English language is quixotic. It means exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, and impractical. Sounds a lot like ’80s music, right? Sounds a lot like being in high school, too. It should come as no surprise to you that when I finally forced myself to get my act together and write the book I’d been trying to write for years, I wrote a teen comedy about a high school senior named Carly Allen with a penchant for ’80s music.
Growing up, I had a sneaking suspicion I was gay. There had to be a reason I really wanted to make that one girl in my world history class laugh every chance I got. A reason that wasn’t just friendship. But I didn’t have the words to untangle all the thoughts and questions in my brain. Then my sister came out. My sister is like a lesbian Ron Swanson. She’s loving in a gruff way. We’re not big sharers by any means, so we never really talked about it. She did leave a book of short stories written by LGBT+ people lying around the house once. I picked it up on a whim one afternoon and felt like my world had stopped. There were words in there that felt like they were plucked from my own brain. For the first time in my life, I felt understood. It’d still be a while before I said them aloud, but the words were finally there.
Burn Before Reading is the book I searched for when I was fifteen. The book that could’ve put the words and answers in my hands, with the sickest ’80s soundtrack to go along with them. It’s the coming of age, fun, gay, teen, high school comedy that didn’t exist for me. Talk about a bunch of buzzwords, right? The main character, Carly Allen, knows she’s gay and knows she has a crush on Mollie Fae, but that’s about all she knows. It’s not a coming out story, but a coming of age story about feeling young and hopeless, but still invincible. Burn Before Reading is about a teenage lesbian finding her place in the world. Her journey is unique to her, but still achingly familiar to anyone who knows what it’s like to feel lost and lonely. It’s a story that every single person over the age of eighteen knows all too well—what it means to grow up.
LGBT+ representation in the media isn’t great. We’re seen as quotas, as politically correct plot additions that rarely make it to the season finale. What does that say to young LGBT+ viewers? That we don’t get the happy ending because of our identity? Frankly, I never liked that answer. In my world, the girl gets the girl. Every. Single. Time.