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Wisdom From YA Authors On Leaving Home: Neal Shusterman


Do you remember the moment when you left home for good? Many young people will do just that this month as they head to college or the military or a first job. Throughout August we brought you stories and advice about this signature moment from authors who have written for young adults. It's a series we call Next Chapter.

Today, we hear from Neal Shusterman. And he's the author of "Challenger Deep," which won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. He says that in each of his books he tries to give his readers a new perspective on the world they think they know.

NEAL SHUSTERMAN: The best way to understand our world and our own lives is to get as many different angles on it as possible.


SHUSTERMAN: I grew up in Brooklyn and lived there until I was 16. And my father came home one day and said that his company's transferred him and we're moving to Mexico. And two weeks later, there I was, living in Mexico City.


GENESIS: (Singing) There must be some misunderstanding. There must be some kind of mistake.

SHUSTERMAN: When I first arrived the first thing I noticed was how out of breath I was because of the altitude and the smog. The smog was so thick you could see it in a room.

We moved into an apartment that I hadn't seen. My father had chosen the apartment. And the second we moved in, a train came by. This apartment building was right next to this freight train track, and the entire building shook when the train went by and it honked its horn. And I was saying, this is where I'm going to live for two years?

I had always been a pretty good student. But my grades were dropping. And that had never happened before. And I was sort of just ignoring it, and it got to the point where the school was ready to expel me.

And there was this one day where I just had a little bit of a breakdown. I mean, I just started crying and crying and crying, and I could not stop. And I didn't understand why. My parents say, what's the matter? What are you crying about. And the only thing that I could say was, I miss my stuff. I don't have my bike. I don't have my music.

And, you know, looking back, that was the culture shock, the feeling of being completely out of my element. And it got to the point where it just hit me - this is a completely different experience for me, and I don't know where I fit into it.


SHUSTERMAN: After that that moment of just hitting rock bottom, everything got better, and it became two of the greatest years of my life. Now I was a citizen of the world. And I was meeting people from all over the world who were there at the American school. And I remember, I left to spend the summer with family in New York right after prom - the day after prom. And everybody was at the airport. We had all just graduated, and everybody was getting on different planes, going different places in the world. And it was just - it was kind of an eye opening moment.

I went to University of California Irvine, UCI. And there were a lot of kids who were having trouble adjusting, and I was surprised to find that I adjusted fairly easily. But I really attributed that to the fact that I had a much bigger adjustment to do a couple of years earlier.

Advice that I would give for kids that were leaving home - find your comfort zone and then leave it because the greatest experiences of our lives are the ones that we have when we have stepped out of our comfort zone. That's where you really grow.


JOURNEY: (Singing) When the lights go down in the city...

SIMON: Neal Shusterman - we've been hearing music by Genesis, Led Zeppelin and Journey, the bands he was listening to when he left home. He's part of our series Next Chapter.

JOURNEY: (Singing) So you think you're lonely, well, my friend, I'm lonely, too. I want to get back... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.