Dear Teen Chris,

I’m a slow writer, and you’re a slow reader — and vice versa — so I’m going to keep this brief.

Or maybe I’m not, because that gets to the point of what I want to let you know today.

There’s time, Chris. There’s time.

You may not realize that you’ve been wondering whether you’re going to live past 39, the age Dad was when he died, but I know that, deep down, you’ve been wondering just that. It shows in how you think about your future, in your rush to accomplish and achieve and check off items on life’s to-do list as “DONE.”

And I wish I could tell you for sure that you will indeed make it to 40 (I hope to let you know in a few months). Shoot, I wish I could tell you that you’re going to make it to 90. Our genetic odds are reasonably good, but who knows? As you’ll find out, life-changing things — though they usually take a while — can happen in an instant. Wonderful things. Not-so-wonderful things. Things that fall somewhere so elusively in between that they’re hard to pin down.

What I most want you to understand is that you don’t have to rush. Just keep writing and reading, and everything will be fine.

Chris in 12th grade

Your writing will change a lot in the years to come, yet in some important ways it will stay the same. Instead of collaborating with Jason on the SSHS Cat’s Tale and with Jim Brennan on whatever silliness pops into your heads (ahem: Janetigone?), you’ll find yourself among whole new communities of writers — your friendships and partnerships and givings and takings with them will be among the most meaningful relationships of your life. And I hope that we’re not done teaming up with Jason and J.B.

As for your reading tastes, those will change, too. You’ll eventually stop returning to your well-loved copy of Ray Coleman’s Lennon — except in warm rememberings of how much that book meant to you when you needed it. Of your three writing heroes, one of them will prove to have feet of clay. Another, you’ll belatedly realize to your chagrin, is a conservative. And the third will be making one of your own sons laugh more than two decades from now.

One question, while we’re on the topic: Would it kill you to read a little young adult literature — you know, a few things written with readers your age in mind?

Wait — don’t answer that. It’s not a big deal. You’ll catch up. After all: There’s time.


Your 39-Year-Old Self

Chris Barton is the author of the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller SHARK VS. TRAIN, the American Library Association Sibert Honor-winning THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS, and the upcoming CAN I SEE YOUR I.D.? TRUE STORIES OF FALSE IDENTITIES, a young-adult collection of profiles of impostors and other masqueraders to be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in April 2011. It has been named a Junior Library Guild selection.

For more information about Chris, his books, and his presentations to students, writers, educators, and librarians, visit him at, where you can also read his late-1970s work The Ozzie Bros. Meet The Monsters, inspired by Star Wars, the Muppets, Abbott & Costello, and the movie-monster books he loved to check out from his elementary school library. You can also follow him on Twitter.