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NPR Arts & Life

Wisdom From YA Authors on Leaving Home: John Corey Whaley

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Throughout August, we'll bring you stories and advice from authors who've written for young people about that pivotal moment where they've left home and set out on their own. It's a series we call Next Chapter. Today, we hear from John Corey Whaley He's the author of "Noggin" and "Highly Illogical Behavior." He says he tries to write stories that are emotionally real for young people, even when the premise seems outlandish.

JOHN COREY WHALEY: I have one book that's about your head being cryogenically frozen. But the book, at its core, is about the sort of emotional reality of change and how growing up changes you and changes everyone around you and, really, the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUFJAN STEVENS SONG)

WHALEY: I left at 18 to go to college. I managed to (laughter) - I managed to really branch out and go to college only one hour away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUFJAN STEVENS SONG)

WHALEY: I grew up in a very small, conservative Louisiana town - 5,000-something people. Everyone at my school knew who I was. I knew who everyone was, and I always hated that (laughter). And then I went to college. Suddenly, I'm on a campus with 12,000 strangers, and all of a sudden, I feel really isolated.

I was still in the closet, so I had this very, like, secretive sort of feeling about my identity still. And also, I went to a very conservative, Southern university. And I liked it OK, but I didn't feel like I belonged there. I think one of my things was I found safety in isolation. My natural tendency was go to class, go home, do homework and kind of just live my little isolated life and pretend I wasn't in college because I wasn't enjoying it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUFJAN STEVENS SONG)

WHALEY: Looking back now, at 32, I see the things that I sort of missed out on. I remember walking by the theater building and thinking, if you could just be brave enough to, like, take a theater class, your group of people are probably those kind of people. Why not just try it?

I would just say to 17, 18-year-olds find a way to get involved, to not isolate yourself from your community, even if that's a college community or if you're staying home, if you're getting a job. Whatever path you're taking, I think one thing you have to do to find yourself completely is to really figure out who you are in relation to your community and to the world around you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHICAGO")

SIMON: That's John Corey Whaley. You've been hearing music from Sufjan Stevens, an artist chosen by Mr. Whaley. He's part of our series Next Chapter.

SUFJAN STEVENS: (Singing) I fell in love again. All things go. All things go. Drove to Chicago. All things know. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.