A friend asked for movie recommendations while she’s recovering from foot surgery, and I once again recommended my favorite movie in recent times, “Sing Street,” which I’d just been thinking about earlier in the day.
It’s a movie that often crosses my mind and it’s particularly relevant to Young Adult writing. My last book (querying now), and my current work-in-progress are both YA, and the movie “Sing Street” gloriously captures the reason I love Young Adult stories, even as an adult.
The story itself isn’t that complicated. It’s about a boy who starts a rock band to impress a girl he likes. But his life is complicated. Parents, and school and circumstances are all getting in the way of his dreams. The story is told from such a realistic point of view, that upon watching for a second time, I was struck by how accurately the first viewing of the movie had portrayed teen experience, pushing even me, as an adult viewer, back into the point-of-view of teenager.
There are a number of moments in the movie when things seem particularly tense. When it seems like something dark and dreadful is being foreshadowed. Not every one of this moments materializes into the worst-case-scenario you might expect, but those moments of not knowing, along with Conner, perfectly capture that teenage feeling, of life hitting you full-force, and never knowing if this disaster is going to be one that blows over by Monday, or if it’s the pivotal moment that’s going to shape your future forever.
And teenage-hood is packed with those pivotal moments, each one—from what sport you play, to your grades to your friends to your free time—each one of them chipping away at the myriad futures that have been previously open and available to you ever since you were old enough to answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up.” Despite promises of “it gets better,” vying with “these are the best years of your life,” the truth is these years are full of irrevocable decisions.
I’ll never get to go back and practice piano three hours a day instead of two, and maybe get that 1st prize scholarship and summer piano camp, instead of an honorable mention and dinner with parents who say, “musician isn’t a job.” Does it matter that “musican” may have been my escape and not my dream? All that matters is that, at some point in those years, the possibilities narrowed.
Teens see this shrinking of the world that’s theirs for the taking. The talk of “you can be whatever you put your mind to,” tells them with certainty, that they are responsible for limiting their own possibilities, by how they choose to use their minds. It’s terrifying, and worse, outside of their own minds, are the obstacles out of their control—parents, money, teachers, friends, and abilities, who act in ways that further limit them.
Sing Street does a beautiful job of immersing the viewer into pushing up against those obstacles without knowing if you’ll push through. Without knowing if the path you put your mind to is even the right one, and without knowing if you’ll look back on it all someday and laugh.