Small town stories: Wadena graduate writes third book starring classmates, first kiss
Over 1,800 miles from Wadena, former resident and author Monica Lee describes the hot air balloons she saw floating across the sunny horizon in Napa, California on Monday morning — a stark contrast to the snowy mornings that many Minnesotans were seeing.
"I'm traveling the country with my husband in an R.V. We sold our house in January and, right now, we're traveling up the west coast," she said. "I spent a lot of years in Minnesota winters, though."
Memories of those Minnesota winters have culminated in Lee's recently-released book, titled "Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of 'Like' in 1982." She wrote the book after re-reading the diaries she diligently kept throughout her teenage years, specifically focusing on a monumental moment in her young life.
"It's the story of the year I turned 15 and learned to French kiss," Lee said. "I wrote it for teenagers who are going through the turmoil of figuring out relationships right now, but I also wrote it for women my age — that would be 50 — who would just like to relive simpler times. Because 1982 was a simpler time."
The story chronicles 15-year-old Lee — a self-proclaimed boy-crazy teenager living in a small town in Minnesota — as she navigates the sudden realization that boys might not be as bad as she had previously thought.
"My relationship with boys — and I was obsessed with boys — was almost combative," she said. "They were always locking me in drum rooms or snipping off a piece of my hair in science class or telling me that I was mean and that they would rather go out with my sister. We were definitely in conflict. I liked boys but couldn't figure them out, and then I began to figure out that boys could actually be nice — that they could be nice to kiss and talk to, and eventually, I did get a boyfriend."
She explained that the book is considered autobiographical fiction as opposed to memoir, as dialogue and other narrative elements of the story have been embellished by Lee — the moments, though, are very real.
"Most of the events in the book actually occurred as they're written," she said. "It's interesting how memory and memoir is unique. I put my perspective out there, and now other people can see that, too. And, although I tried not to be too descriptive, if you lived it, you will know some of the people in this book."
She's talking, of course, about her high school classmates from what was then Wadena Senior High School — many of whom have reached out to Lee since the book's publication in March with positive (and nostalgic) feedback.
Lee explained that, although the book contains embarrassing anecdotes and personal stories, she wasn't nervous for its release. Nothing could quite compare, she said, to the nervousness she experienced before the release of her previous book, "The Percussionist's Wife."
"The subtitle on "The Percussionist's Wife" is, 'A memoir of sex, crime and betrayal,' and that was about my first marriage," she said. "That was very true and was really scary to release, so after that hump, it wasn't as scary releasing this one. I feel like it took much less courage to put out into the world because I know that other people — other teenagers, other adults — felt things that I put into this book. I wasn't afraid to tell the story because I think it makes people feel like they're not alone."
As for the little town it all took place in, Lee admits that she thought of Wadena as a "hick town" growing up — a viewpoint that, since she officially moved out of Wadena in 1987, has shifted.
"You don't want to become your parents when you're a teenager, so you reject everything they are and where they live," she said. "So, growing up, I thought it was a small town where nothing happened and that everyone who lived there — even me — was a hick. But, looking back, that was way too harsh. Now I can see that it's simpler and sweeter and that people are more honest than in the great, big world. Wadena is certainly not a cosmopolitan mecca, but that's what I love about it — I love that it is a small town tucked in the open plains of Minnesota. I don't quite feel so cold to Minnesota anymore."