SAN DIEGO — In the movie "Peggy Sue Got Married," actress Kathleen Turner says: "I wish I knew then what I know now. If I could go back, I'd do a lot of things differently."
Well, she does go back, and it's a voyage just about everyone has thought about taking at one time or another. Jacqueline Shannon thinks about it a lot. She has Peggy Sue fantasies all the time, and she hasn't even seen the movie.
Oh, how Shannon remembers high school--the pain of first dates, the misery of ill-timed remarks, the nagging regret that so much could have been different. She now knows that most of a teen-ager's awful moments are unnecessary.
Inevitable, but unnecessary.
She believes, like Peggy Sue, that high school would be so much easier if she could pass through again, as a 30-year-old, which she is, and not as an acrobat on the knife edge of adolescence.
Nowadays, she spends a lot of time talking to teen-agers. For years, she has drafted articles for Seventeen, Teen and Young Miss, all magazines for young girls. She recently spent several emotional days at a "fat farm," talking to young women who fit the category of "morbidly obese."
Given the amount of magazine work she does, it's surprising that nonfiction is not a Shannon specialty. Fiction is. A graduate of Patrick Henry High School and San Diego State University, Shannon is an accomplished author of "young adult" novels. She recently sold her third. Two have been published already, and even New York critics are having to admit that Shannon has a special feel for the difficulty and heartache of teen-age years.
It's hard to imagine Shannon acquiring such knowledge firsthand. She's a slim, attractive woman with a skilled sense of humor, a happy marriage, a house in Pacific Beach, two cats and a blossoming career.
Her third novel, "I Lost Timothy Bled," a story about radically different twins, was just bought by Avon Books. Her second, "Class Crush," will be published by Scholastic in January. Her first, "Too Much T.J.," was recently published in hard cover by Delacorte Press. It sells for $14.95. Shannon is glad that the second and third efforts are destined for paperback only.
"Maybe then teen-agers can afford them," she said with a laugh.
Publisher's Weekly had this to say about "Too Much T.J.":
"Shannon plays with changing familial relationships deftly, catching every nuance with just the right touch. This honorable mention winner in Delacorte's first young adult novel contest is a persuasive familial comedy of the '80s."
Through her own experience (hardly unsavory) and those of the characters she writes about, Shannon has narrowed the adolescent adventure into three critical truths:
- "If you hang in there long enough, it gets better."
- "Outside of high school, it's actually an advantage to be different."
- "Despite appearances, nobody has it all together."
The trouble is, almost no teen-agers have the wisdom to know these truths, much less have them handy for everyday use. If we could only go back and do those years over, knowing what we know now, she says--but even Peggy Sue realized that not that much would change.
In talking to teens, Shannon discovers that many are sensitive "in a good way" about a lot of things, not the least of which is an unfair image that she feels the media convey. If you believe "the rep," she says, you almost expect every teen-ager alive to be a biker, a harlot or a drug dealer, or maybe all three.
"Teen-agers today are really not much different from any generation that's come up," she said. "The feelings, the situations are all pretty much the same."
Feelings, she said, are what's important. Shannon says the situations she uses in fiction are all made up, that none are autobiographical. It's the feelings she tries to convey.
"I remember those with utter clarity," she said with a sigh. "Those are autobiographical."
Much of her own angst was caused by sudden changes in a growing body. In less than a year she went from 5 feet tall to 5-foot-8 and expanded from a 28AA bra to a 38DD.
"That's what I wear now ," she said with a grin. "It was a rough time to grow up anyway. We had the Vietnam War and all that that implied. But the big thing with me and a lot of girls was what was happening to our bodies--it was a new Khe Sanh every day, something you just couldn't fight. There were no moratoriums for the bod."
Shannon graduated from Patrick Henry High in January, 1973. She had skipped a year, going from the first semester of fourth grade to the second semester of fifth grade. But that had its disadvantages.
It doesn't sound like a big thing now, but she had to wait to get a driver's license, while classmates were buzzing around in their parents' cars. She played a kind of little-sister role to older peers and looked back forlornly on the class she had left behind. Nevertheless, she, like all the other girls, ate up the young adult books of an earlier, different era.