Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WELCOME WEDNESDAY GUEST POST: Renee Pace's Being Poor in High School Sucks

(Carey here. I am so happy to welcome ya author Renee Pace to Honestly YA. Although she lives far away from where I grew up, her universal topic is close to my heart.)

High school is hell. If you think it’s not, just remember that at no other time in your life will you feel like all eyes are watching you. Everyone observes your behavior—your parents, the teachers and even your BFFs. And just when you think it can’t get worse it will. Trust me, I know that from personal experience it will.
 My book Off Leash highlights poverty. I did this because in my small fishing community there were hard times. Did that matter to me? You bet. Hard times meant going without. Trying to get through high school on second-hand clothing from your cousin’s closet from two years ago? Whenever I saw her she always made a point of saying I looked good in her clothes. She lied. I didn’t look good in them. Out-dated and with my five foot-four frame compared to her five-nine model-thin body, the clothes made me look strange. My mother never cut the hem off the pants. She always tacked them up, just in case I had a growth spurt.  That never happened. Sweaters became my strategy through high school. If I put a sweater on over one of her shirts I’d be okay, but the minute that bulky sweater came off I was overly conscious of my flat chest. She filled out the shirts and I definitely didn’t.  To say I hated gym class would be an understatement. I think gym teachers live to embarrass teenagers. I was so self-conscious back then I resorted to changing in the washrooms.
What was worse than gym? Ah, you guessed it—the cafeteria. I always brown bagged it. Not because I didn’t have food but my food was usually the same—some type of homemade stew. You might think my parents were trying to be health conscious, try again. Homemade stew usually made from some type of wild creature my father hunted (think rabbit, deer and bears here) could get you through a lot of school days but it was embarrassing as hell. I always got teased. When it became clear I was soon going to be nicknamed the “soup lady” I stopped taking lunch.
I lived off coffee in high school and waited until I got home to eat. Like Jay in my book I pretended I was full and all was okay. I started working when I was 16 at my local drug store and to me it was the best thing ever. That first pay cheque I got I went into the cafeteria line and ordered French fries with gravy. Still to this day I can remember how they tasted—hot, slightly mushy and omg great.

Today as an adult I know those memories seem silly but whenever I see anyone from my high school days, which thankfully doesn’t happen a lot, I cringe. I’m 42 now but in their eyes I always feel like that awkward self-conscious teen, and that totally sucks.

Renee Pace is a young adult writer who likes to tackle real teen issues in her nitty gritty series. Mother of four children she calls Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada home. She loves coffee, living near the Atlantic Ocean and believes strongly in volunteerism. She is a member of Romance Writers of American, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, the Society of Children Writers and Illustrators, and the Nova Scotia Writers’ Federation. To find out more about Renee Off Leash, or her December release Off Limits please visit  
Great post Renee! Thanks so much for stopping by Honestly YA. Off Leash is is at the top of my TBR pile and I can't wait to read. Today, Renee will be giving away one digital copy of Off Leash. Follow the Honestly YA blog and leave your comment below for a chance to win. Standard contest disclaimer applies.

Your turn: Was poverty a noticeable issue in your school? If so what side of the tracks/median income did you fall on?


Carey_Corp said...

Thanks Renee for a great post! I can remember being on the assisted lunch program and it was actually a seperate line from paying kids *ugh* Thankfully things seem to have gotten a bit more sensitive - atleast at my kid's school.

Melissa Landers said...

When I was young, (think elementary school), it was just me and my mom, and we were flat broke. She worked two jobs just to put stewed cabbage on the table--yucky, but cheep--and once she sold that same kitchen table to make rent. But I was happy, and I never realized how poor we were, even though I was one of the few kids in my school with a free breakfast & lunch card. Of course, I was very little. I'm sure I wouldn't have felt the same way if our circumstances hadn't changed by middle school and high school.

Lorie Langdon said...

Welcome Renee! Thanks for sharing your pain. The teen years are hard enough without the added pressure of sticking out because you don’t dress or eat like everyone else.
Like Melissa and Carey, I was on the assisted lunch plan in elementary school. I didn't really understand at the time why my lunch tickets were a different color. Once I hit Middle School my family was doing better financially, but I still started working at a frozen yogurt shop when I was fifteen to pay for my own clothes and entertainment. In my wealthy suburban high school, that was not cool.
Thanks again for stopping by!

Jo Ramsey said...

My family was right on the border. We could afford school lunches for me, but not the clothes I wanted. I dealt with $10 jeans from the local department store instead of the $30 jeans all my classmates were wearing. I stood out enough as it was, and the clothes I wore just made it worse.

I finally got to the point where I started deliberately mixing and matching cast-offs from my mother (she'd had to have her clothes specially made; she grew up in a small fishing town in Nova Scotia, and she was over 6 feet tall, so there weren't any stores in town with clothes that fit her. So she'd kept all those clothes, and I didn't have any siblings or cousins to get hand-me-downs from) and clothes from second-hand stores, along with the few new things I had. I figured if I was going to get teased for how I dressed, I might as well go all out.

There were other kids in my school who were from low-income families, but they somehow managed to dress better than I did...

Renee Pace said...

Thanks everyone for commenting and sharing info. It's sad that even today it's hard to talk about this and worse is knowing it's still going on. Thanks for sharing.

Huntley Fitzpatrick said...

Awesome post, Renee. Rich/poor/privileged/under- has always been a huge issue for me. My favorite book as a child was A LITTLE PRINCESS. I was one, now I'm the opposite and it's hard seeing my teens head out to school in handmedowns....

Ana Kenley said...


Thanks for sharing your post. I understand cringing when you see someone from high school. Thankfully that doesn't happen too often and, of course, I avoid reunions! It sucks to see anyone suffer from poverty, but children especially. I'll have to pick up your book.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Thanks for being so willing to share your experiences with an issue like poverty. It can make a person feel so isolated and caught up in some sort of strange alternate dimension.

As a late-forty-something who lives in my mother's basement, I applaud your frankness and compassion for this painful subject.

PJ Sharon said...

Thank you Renee for being brave enough to write about this issue. We didn't have much when I was growing up either. I was the youngest of five girls, so yes, I was wearing footed pajamas with no feet left, and bell bottoms and hip huggers in 1982. Not cool. I was also pregnant my junior about all eyes being on you!

It's a wonder any of us survives. But more than that, we are thriving, giving voice to our experiences, and reaching out with compassion to help others. The hotter the metal is forged, the harder the weapon. We rock ladies!

Renee Pace said...

Clothing does not make you love me. I just made up that quote but thought of Huntley's comment - it is hard to go from riches to rags but love is its own reward. That's what I tell myself. I still shop at Thrift stores because I'd rather be able to afford music or sport lessons for my 4 kids. I never had that chance and I don't want them to miss out. To Julia - if your mother didn't want you she'd tell you to move out. You do help. My kids will always be welcome at my house (might kill me) but that is what family does. To PJ - I long for those pjs with feet now but I confess to owning a snuggly. Ana - I don't do reunions. I had hardly any friends in high school why would I want to go back. I can barely visit my home town also - to many memories. Again, thanks everyone for commenting.

Cathryn Fox said...

Renee, thanks for sharing your story with us, so many of us have felt that way. I loved Off Leash and I can't wait for Off Limits.

B. A. Binns said...

Teen years suck under the best of circumstances. For my kid the problem wasn't that she ws poor, it was that I didn't see the need for all the "stuff" she claimed her friends all had.

I grew up poor, in a school populated with other poor kids, so it wasn't as huge an issue. Don't get me wrong, poverty still sucked, but I always knew I wasn't alone in the world.

As the eldest of five (four girls), I at least got the new clothes that were then handed down to the others. It wasn't the happiest of times, especially around Christmas when we always got our presents following the after holiday sales. But still, it wasn't a huge issue at school, either.

I don't know if I was too tough on my daughter, but she had to deal with no iPhone, no Xbox, and no designer labels, just dance classes and gymnastics anbd parties and all the other things she managed to wheedle out of me.

Suzanne Lilly said...


I don't think the way you feel about your teen years is silly at all. I suffered through having packing tape on my shoes to hold them together, clothes that had been handed down four or more times, no bike to ride except a hand-me-down boy's bike, and many other things. I can still feel myself cringe inside when I remember the comments people made behind my back about my clothes. Most people don't want to hear about these types of childhoods because it makes them uncomfortable. But somehow we all survived those years, and I like to think our experiences made us stronger and more empathetic women.

Renee Pace said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by and sharing your comments. Wow is all I have to say - so many of us with heart-breaking high school moments and the overall theme I'm hearing is being poor. I think that's getting worse with today's economic situation.

On a happy note - Huntley Fitzpatrick you are the lucky winner of Off Leash. Please email me at so we can get you my book. Thanks again everyone.

JDizzle said...

I just found this blog through Carey's site. I was (and proudly, still am) a country girl, raised in a fairly rural (read farm here) area. Dad had died when I was one so, money was tight. One new outfit and a pair of keds every year before school started. We still had rich kids/poor kids, but no one made you feel you were the poor kid. My school chums were a mix of the two. However, imagine the embarrassment of your mother being a "lunch lady!" Her friends would give me "extra portions" in lieu of me wearing the sign, "I'm the poor kid." As I aged, my mom transferred with me from my elementary school, to our middle school, to my HIGH SCHOOL! AARGHH Mom's gone now, but not before I realized her efforts. God Bless the poor kids..., and their parents!! :-)

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