Franco, Betsy, ed. Things I Have to Tell You. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2001. ISBN 0763609056.
Betsy Franco has amassed a collection of heartfelt free-verse poems and prose, all written by teenage girls.
These poems incorporate a wide range of emotions - first love, what it means to grow up female, sexual abuse, self-respect, independence, and family. Some of the poems talk about their loss of virginity. Some poems mention exploring their sexuality. One of my favorite poems is Apricot Bath:
by Lindsay Henry, age 17
I don't want to be sexy right now
I don't feel like arranging myself
in positions that will delight your eyes
Arranging myself so that my stomach doesn't show
so that you can't see my feet
I don't feel like making the effort
I want to sit next to you
in an apricot bubble bath
and talk about why your politics conflict with mine
without your staring at my breasts
I want to sit cross-legged
lean forward with my elbows on my knees
and listen to your reasoning
without your peering down between my thighs
I want us to be two sexless beings
Watching the steam curl off the water
But if you must love me
Love the little smooth scar on my knee
not my eyes
Love my round belly
not my legs
Love the two freckles on my neck
that look like a vampire's kiss
not my lips
Love my square pudgy toes
not my smile
I want to inhale the apricot fumes
brush the bubbles from your shoulder
and argue with you over our beliefs
I don't want anything to be sexual
even though we're both naked and
our feet are kissing under the tepid water
I want us to stay in the bath
until we don't know
where water ends and skin begins
Until I know
Why you are who you are
Until you love me
for my flaws and what I believe in (30-31)
I don't remember being that intelligent at 17, to understand so deeply the difference between love and sexuality.
These young women also think about their future vs. their present:
by Miriam Stone, age 16
reacting with phosphorus learning without
I don't react knowing
I sit in my I see through the paper without room
crunched-in and my pen writes to learn how
restraining poetic equations to know myself
desk, they call it, my mind plus my life to be myself
with my paper equals trial and error
and my pen something beyond this minus lab write-up
and I am doodles litter my feeling without
supposed to see notebook like snowflakes a thesis
the blackboard dancing through the trees learning youth
around the tall boy beyond the window mi futuro
en frente de mi the lined paper learning how to live
and my mind on my lines with soul without a textbook
text and my pen on forgetting cosines without a teacher to
the page I am life without phosphorus correct grammar
supposed to and my life to live to learn myself
for me mi futuro to live to know myself
para mifuturo. beyond desk-chairs   to live to be somebody
but my head And dull muraled halls  who's learned how
won't translate j.v.varsity and to live (58)
this language setting the curve
log base b of a squared; school play and G.P.A.
carbon monoxide textbooks
These young poets show surprising depth through their writings. They have so much to say, but being teenage girls, it's hard for them to get somebody to listen sometimes: "Look out--I opened my mouth/and out came ideas/you don't think are pretty" (13). Some are exploring their feminie wiles, as in the selection below - make sure you read this passage out loud to get a sense of the strong rhyme and rhythm:
This conquette can get
Any man she's set
A female Don Juan.
The best, I confess,
Cannot help but obsess
In one hell of a dress. (23)
The poetic imagery is also very strong in this collection, such as in "I am stuck inside this cocoon" (29), and "I look for my shield/and find my mask under the bed/I slip it on; it's warm and secure/but still a little uncomfortable" (32), and "my friend and i/got caught in a storm/with tears for rain,/and shouts for thunder, lightning fists/lashing out" (41).
These young women have a lot to say, and Betsy Franco has created an outlet for their deepest thoughts. There are poems in here about drug abuse, thoughts of suicide, and "A Man's Strength, But a Woman's Mind" ( 24-25). Maybe these thoughts, written out as they are to share with the world, may help another young woman when she needs support through a crucial time.
Awards and Honors
Amelia Bloomer Project, 2002; American Library Association-SRRT; United States.
Best Books for Young Adults, 2002; American Library Association-YALSA; United States.
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002; Bank Street College of Education; United States.
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2002; American Library Association-YALSA; United States.
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States.
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Young Adults' Choices, 2003; International Reading Association; United States.
Korbeck, Sharon.(School Library Journal; May 2001(Vol. 47 Issue 5))
"In allowing the words of teens from across the nation to shine through, without polishing or pushing, Franco has succeeded in compiling one of the brightest collections out there today. In a mixture of prose and poetry, the young women express their fears, dreams, relationships, and angst. There are some poetic turns of phrases here ("we put on our chatter/like red lipstick/with the same amount/of greasy enthusiasm") and some strong language. And while the poems are triumphant in their realism, the book is elevated by the inclusion of gritty, unposed black-and-white photographs. These pictures, not taken to illustrate the poems, do so in an exemplary fashion. Like snapshots from personal photo albums, the images of a multicultural array of "everygirls" are harmonious complements to this outstanding collection."
Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, Fall 2001)
Several striking entries in this compilation of poems and prose lift it above the majority of such offerings; all of these writers take on issues of family, love, body image, drugs, and sexuality with clarity and insight. The black-and-white photographs are neither literal illustrations of the pieces nor portraits of the writers; they reflect the emotional currents of the writing and provide further expression of a diverse group of young women.
Pair this book with Betsy Franco's You Hear Me?: Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys (Candlewick, 2000).
Betsy Franco's website can be found here.