Lives in the Balance (& book giveaways!)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

The TV binge continues.  Yes, it’s sad, although probably better than the equivalent in ice cream or heroin.  

I know I promised a DOWNTON ABBEY dish, and believe me, it’s coming, but I’ve got something else on my mind this week.


Do you all know this show?  (I lived in the South for five years and never learned to fully say y’all.  I think because I know my mother would kill me if I ever did it in her presence. Even if it does make absolute sense grammatically.)

I’ve been meaning to watch FRIDAY for ages because I thought the non-fiction book on which it’s based was just so incredibly excellent, and I’ve heard so much about the show, created by the amazing Peter Berg, and there’s also, well, Kyle Chandler.  (And on the jailbait end of the spectrum, although at the time of the show he was an adult pro hockey player so it’s actually NOT a felony to look at him – Taylor Kitsch.)

And I finally just started on it, which was a HUGE mistake, because there are FIVE SEASONS of this thing.Who in the world has time for five seasons of anything?

But first game – I mean, first show – I was just hooked.

I had lunch with a friend this week and was raving about it and he looked at me askance and said something to the effect of “Okay, I know it’s great writing and all that, but sports fan that I am – even I couldn’t get past the whole Texas football arena.  So how the hell do YOU?”

I know what he means.

The fact is, very few people realize how much exposure to football I’ve actually had, because I very rarely talk about all the jocks I’ve – been exposed to.  

Look, I’m a dancer. I appreciate physical talent.

But I’m not watching this show for the football, even though I can enjoy watching any sport for that pure physicality. I absolutely love seeing what the human body can do. And football (and hockey) are by far my favorite sports because of the body types and the body parts that the uniforms emphasize.

Okay, but football culture. Not a fan. Hazing, bullying, sexual harassment and assault, simpering cheerleaders making baked goods… And Texas, well, it gave us W. And anyone who can’t figure out how I feel about THAT….

But the absolute fact is, this is a brilliant show. This show is about Texas (and I think it’s important to understand Texas to understand this country, especially now), and it’s about football (and I think it’s important to understand football to understand this country, not as much now as eight years ago, but always), and it’s about race and racism, and it’s about paralyzing cliches of men and women. It’s about Christianity and what that is in this country. It’s about Texas oil and gas, crucial to understand about that state and this country right now.

And it’s about teaching. 

And it’s about teenagers.

More specifically, it’s about teenage lives in the balance.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those teen years, lately. Well, I recently wrote a book set in high school, of course, that tends to concentrate your focus (or more exactly, your entire conscious and unconscious being) on these things. But there’s only one novel that I’ve written so far (and I just finished my TENTH on Friday, people!!!) that doesn’t prominently feature teenagers in major roles.

I know why that is.  When I was just out of college, I taught high school in various exceptional circumstances – rehab centers and the LA County lock-up camps.  Gang kids, at-risk kids, prostitutes, felons, addicts, fosters, abandoneds, traumatized, brutalized, you name it. And while I was doing that, half-time, part-time, enough to make a bare living, I was also double-full-time doing the work that broke me through as a professional writer. So writing and working with troubled teenagers are inextricably entwined for me.

But even before that, I went to Turkey as an exchange student when I was sixteen, one of the most traumatizing and most profound and character-defining experiences of a pretty diverse life. Psychologists say that people can become fixed psychologically at the age of a trauma (especially childhood trauma) and I explore that idea thematically in many of my novels. 

So I have extreme fixations at the ages of sixteen and twenty-two – I can channel everything about those ages as if I’m still living them.  (Well, and lots of other ages, too, but for the purposes of this blog!)

Drifting a bit, but my point is that great stories about teenagers or teaching teenagers just light me up.  I, the non-crier, cried all the way through the fifth season of THE WIRE, which I loved every single second of every episode of, but that season about the kids just devastated me, and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is having that same effect on me.

Because both of those shows are about kids who are literally infinite – the potential of everything imaginable is inside them, as it is in every child, but it’s so very, very often in those teen years that kids fly or they fall. The stakes are unimaginably enormous; they are not just life and death but mythic.

I’ve been thinking about THAT a lot because RWA, one of the biggest of the big annual book conferences, asked me to do a YA-focused structure workshop at their craft conference this year and I’m working on this theory that YA tends toward the mythic and magical, with the ultimate of stakes, because that is actually so very heartbreakingly true about the teenage years.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS really bears this out.  Like THE WIRE, the show focuses on kids who are “at risk”, but “at risk” is portrayed as what it truly is.  The razor edge between – for a smart but troubled girl – rape and a life of prostitution and degradation – and a college education and an adventurous and fulfilling future.  The razor edge for an orphaned boy between prison (which for a boy of 17 or 18 means sex slavery, torture, drugs, a high probability of suicide) and a stable self-employment, love and family.  For more than one kid, the difference between a pro football career and a lifetime of drudgery at Tastee Freeze – or again, prison. Not just between life and death, but between life and hell.

It’s the reality of so many, too many, staggeringly many teenagers in our country.  Take a look at the statistics for girls and boys – for rape, homelessness, addiction, prison, suicide… and don’t even get me started on the prospects for children and teenagers in less fortunate countries.

As crime writers, we write about extreme circumstances, it’s basic to the genre.  Well, to me, there’s nothing more extreme than the razor edge that teenagers walk every day, and generally they walk it alone because their parents either should have been sterilized at birth, or said parental units develop a wonderfully selective amnesia once they’re out of their own teenage years and are of no help whatsoever to their children in a crisis, much less the continuing crisis that the teenage years are. And – though it’s better now than what it as when I was in high school, kids still don’t generally talk about the bad stuff.  And you’d better believe predators rely on that post-traumatic self-defensive amnesia.

I admire the hell out of televison that doesn’t sugarcoat. The most prevalent, Alice-in-Wonderland memory of my teenage years was looking around at all the agony the students around me were experiencing and wondering how the hell adults could be so oblivious to it.

So with YA, just like with my adult fiction, I write the dark, because I remember what it was like to be a teenager, and because I so wanted someone else to be acknowledging it and DOING something about it. And I am in awe of any storyteller, in any medium, who tackles the razor edge that the teeage years are.

Myself, when I was a teenager, I was never at risk for a criminal life.  But I know my soul was in the balance, and great stories that told the truth about the darkness I experienced, and that I saw around me, literally, physically saved me – when people fell short.

Something to think about, isn’t it?

So how about you?

In high school, did you, or people you knew, walk a razor’s edge? Who or what saved you or them?  What were the stories that got you through to the light?

And – who WASN’T saved?



Murderati March Madness 

Zoë and I are giving away e books this week!


My very dark YA thriller The Space Between is free on Kindle through Sunday (midnight): 

“Alexandra Sokoloff has created an intricate tapestry; a dark Young Adult novel with threads of horror and science fiction that make it a true original. Loaded with graphic, vivid images that place the reader in the midst of the mystery and danger, The Space Between takes psychological elements, quantum physics and multiple dimensions with parallel universes and creates a storyline that has no equal. A must-read. ”  — Suspense Magazine



More info and download now:

Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Amazon ES
Amazon FR
Amazon IT

If you meed an e pub version just e mail me – alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com

And Book of Shadows will also be free in the UK and worldwide, except US:

“A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn’t-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended.”   — Lee Child

More info and download now:

Amazon UK 
Amazon DE
Amazon ES
Amazon FR
Amazon IT



Zoë Sharp’s ex-Special Forces turned bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox, is described by The Chicago Tribune as “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic − and coolest − heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”

Now you have a chance to find out how it all began. For 48 hours from midnight Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, February 29th to midnight PST on Friday, March 2nd the very first in the Charlie Fox series, KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, will be available as a FREE Kindle download from and The book, complete with two deleted scenes and a Foreword by Lee Child, also includes the opening chapter fromRIOT ACT: Charlie Fox book two.

The New York Times said of KILLER INSTINCT: “The bloody bar fights are bloody brilliant.”


31 thoughts on “Lives in the Balance (& book giveaways!)

  1. Sarah W

    First, I'm of the opinion that modern football pants were designed by and for those of us who appreciate the male derrière. Other than that, I have little use for the sport, which is a lot of hurry up and wait and would, in my opinion, be improved by continuous play and maybe Taser mines scattered in the red zone.

    But your actual question is a tough one. From personal experience I know that ignoring bullies–my parents' suggestion–doesn't work. After thirty-cough years, I've managed to shed *most* of my survival mechanisms . . . but not all. The least damaging was reading—anything and everything. I pulled other people's words over my head like a security blanket and rarely emerged, even for family (sometime especially not for family).

    Two of my childhood friends didn't make it through high school: one drowned trying to fit in with a wilder group of kids who dared him to swim across a swollen river. Another stole her dad's stash and ODed two months before graduation–no one will ever know if she wanted her escape to be permanent or not.

    Best years of my life? Lord, I hope not.

  2. Shizuka

    I was always pretty far from the edge, mostly because of luck — involved parents,
    good instincts, and friends who looked out for me.
    And my group didn't do anything insane. We went to some parties we weren't supposed to,
    walked along the outside of overpasses, held sceances, and went outside during storms and hurricanes, but no one ended up in prison or drove high.

    Bad things happened to a few of my friends. Two ended up in institutions for a few months — one because she was anorexic and pretty disturbed, the other because he suddenly found out he was adopted and because his parents wouldn't accept the fact that he was gay. What they both had in common — parents who denied everything "ugly" and talked about nothing.

    One of my closest high school friends fell off the map. I found him last year; he'd lived most of the last 2 decades in an alcoholic daze and was in a 1/4way house at the time. But he's alive and still has his twisted sense of humor. He made it back.

  3. Alaina

    If I go to hell when I die, I'll return to sixth grade. High school is purgatory– bad, yes, but something you can put up with and suffer through and there are bright moments if you look for it. Sixth grade was the legitimate hell, though.

    My area's caught somewhere between poor and middle class, and I'm still shocked by the kids who didn't make it. One guy, my friend, straight-A student, volunteered to help a teacher because he wanted to be one, went out of his way to reassure the freshmen… got a girlfriend two years younger than him, a trouble-making know-it-all who got her parents to argue with the principal for her bad grades more than once. Dropped out of college (where he had an almost-full scholarship) after one semester to be with her; currently still with her and works as a bank teller. If asked, he says he wants to be a banker… with the gloomy, half-lidded eyes that lost their sparkle. Though, considering how she watches anyone he talks to, and makes reasons for him to have things to do that prevent him from talking to anyone…

    I really hate people who write off teen problems as overblown.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sarah W., you don't have to be a football fan to appreciate the, um, assets of this show. Even though you and I have our differences on the male candy front, I think you'll find something for everyone.

    It is not at all surprising to me that in only three comments so far we've had enough devastating and heartbreaking stories to make me cry. Those two of yours – the dare to swim across the river and the OD – specifically the words "stole her dad's stash" are more than enough to power a whole book, as far as I'm concerned.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Shizuka, I hope we meet someday – I'm not surprised that you managed to stay away from the edge. Old soul is a cliche, but…

    Institutionalization, yeah. And those are just the incidents you KNEW about. These huge numbers of kids grow up in totally chaotic, nonsensical worlds and they're the ones who get warehoused. Kills me.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Alaina, I'm sorry to hear about your sixth grade.That is so young to feel so bleak. It should never have to be the case for a kid – instead it's the common experience. Something is WRONG with that.

    Your story about your friend brought down by the wrong girflriend is the kind of thing FNL is doing so well. It really portrays how the wrong influence (brother, mother, friend, boyfriend) can completely derail a kid's life.

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Outstanding blog today, Alex. I don't even know where to begin. You've given me so much to think about. First off, I think you'll create a fantastic YA workshop – it's something I'd love to attend. What a great way to get started writing the genre.
    Second, you only mentioned cheerleaders once in your post. But I'll forgive you for that.
    Thirdly – will there ever be a memoir for us to read? Your life is fascinating. And, though I'm sure it would be difficult for you to write, I'd like to know what happened in Turkey. Because it obviously defined you, to some extent. If you ever write that memoir, I'll be first to buy it.
    And fourfthfully, you've sold me on Friday Night Lights. I never would have thought to watch it except for your review here.
    And, fifthstastically, I remember an edge-defining moment in high school. I had a friend with a death wish who would race anyone anywhere anytime in his car. I had an old V8 Mustang and would occasionally take his dare. I would push things to the edge, but he would cross it and I'd be the one who quickly pulled back into a lane when the car on the opposing side of the road came at us. He never did, and he always won the race. Until one day he didn't. I wasn't present, but he had rolled his car a dozen times and was in the hospital fighting for his life. He won the battle and returned to school, a bit broken, but nothing that wouldn't heal. That was the moment he stopped racing, and mine, too.

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Steve, I have to say I was so stupid with a car in those years. Honestly, it's a miracle that we don't lose HALF our teenagers to reckless driving. It makes me cold.

    There wasn't any ONE thing about Turkey. I wasn't raped (close, though, not for the first time or the last) or kidnapped or otherwise physically harmed. It was a very volatile time to be there politically and there were massacres at protests at college campuses, very frightening. But the main overall changing thing was the constant sexual harassment I got – the deliberate, institutionalized degradation of women. It made me realize how razors'edge lucky I am to have been born in the US. And I realized I might not survive the whole experience – literally, that I could die. And that made me have no fear or question about pursuing my dreams once I did get back to the states, which is a huge thing to have happened at 16.

    I don't think I could live through writing a memoir. Blogging is hard enough!

  9. Allison Davis

    Geez Alex, thinking back then…I never missed a high school football game, truly. (And I'm still a fan.) That was the thing to do, and pizza afterward, always. We were in a high school outside of DC when the drinking age in DC was 18…which meant you could start drinking at 15 in bars (I was really tall even then) — we'd go to the Peacock pizzeria and Stella would come to the table and ask us if we all had IDs, we'd say yes, and she'd go get the beer (and never ask to see them). It was our ritual all through high school. I was also.gawky, odd, loud but found my niche (theatre) and stuck to it but the allure of football, the jocks, the whole cheerleader thing was mezmerizing even then. My best friend from that time — the two of us used each other to keep our balance and not fall off that edge — is still around and we're still close. Those friendships, part survivial, part explorative — sharing of all that new and sometimes dark — bind tightly.

    I have fostered teens and am now spending a lot of time with my 15 year old niece. I get it. Or so they tell me. It can be a dark hole…I shine a lot of light and turn up the music. With my niece I keep her in books. She's urging me to read the Hunger Games.

    As for uniforms, I'm really a baseball girl and the Giants first cactus league game is tomorrow and that makes me a happy camper.

    (And if you liked the WIRE you need to watch Treme about my adopted home town…happy to lend you the DVDs…)

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Laughing, Allison – if I hadn't had the year from hell last year I would have been all over Treme. David Simon doing New Orleans? God. But there's always a point to even my TV binges, and so I still haven't gotten to it. Believe me, I will.

    You definitely should read Hunger Games. It's wonderful that you've fostered. When my own life is more stable again, that's high on my list of Must Do.

    Thank you for your football memories! It really seems to be more enveloping for people in the South and East, but maybe I just never felt it like that in more laid-back California.

  11. Allison Davis

    PS I'm in the last episode of the second season but only for a nanno second. You can see my Giants cap. David Simon adopted New Orleans years ago because his friend Eric Overmyer has a house there — like many of us — that he sometimes goes to. They've been wanting to "do" New Orleans for a long time…best part is half the "actors" are New Orleaneans, including the musicians.

  12. Shizuka

    Hi Alex,

    I may make it to RWA and your workshop.
    I went for the first time last year because it was in New York and it was so amazing
    that I may hike out to CA (not literally. don't get me started on the stupidity of hiking.)

    Your Turkish experience sounds like mine. I backpacked there and learned that the
    Turkish version of "She was asking for it" is "She was walking down the street."

    Allison, the Hunger Games was one of the best books I read last year. And read Divergent, too!


  13. Gar Haywood

    Alex, I was a total nerd in high school. My greatest offense back then was playing hooky.

    Now, of course, I'm making up for lost time by being the Hell's Angel of all crime writers.

    (Yeah, right.)

  14. Pari Noskin

    All I can say is that I'm very lucky I survived high school; I took so many incredibly dangerous and stupid risks. In a bar somewhere I'll tell you about them; not online, not ever.

    I also remember a moment when I was about 10 or so and I ran away from home. I remember thinking, "This could go two ways . . . I could stick out my thumb and, maybe, end up dead or I could go home." You know which one I picked because I'm here — but I sure do remember the decision and the utter fear of being on that ledge.

  15. KDJames

    Yeah, I survived by sheer dumb luck. I don't think of it as an edge so much as a void. And I'm with Pari: not online, not ever. And probably not even in a bar. Or in a car or stuck in tar. (sorry, with today being Dr. Seuss' birthday and all…)

    Honestly, it's a toss up for me whether it was more difficult to be a teen or to be the parent of teens. Mine are now both "safely" (ha) in their 20s, but I always said if my kids did half the stuff I did, I'd kill them. It was absolutely gut-wrenching, as a parent, remembering what it was like and knowing they were going through the same things. But my house was usually the place to hang out and my shoulder has been soaked by a good number of teenage tears (not just my kids'), so maybe I did something right. It's a miracle any of them survive it. They do so in spite of themselves.

    And since everything I say lately offends *someone* — hell, why stop now — I have to object to the "simpering cheerleaders" characterization that seems so prevalent (and not just here). I wasn't a cheerleader but I was on the danceline for three years in HS (think Rockettes, high kicks, splits, etc). And I wouldn't know how to simper if my life depended on it. It was physically demanding goddamned hard sweaty work and back then it was pretty much the only option (along with cheerleading) for girls to engage in an athletic activity. I think my HS had a track team, but I hate to run. Girls sports were virtually non-existent. We weren't airheads who spent all our time giggling. Most of us were what these days would be considered scholar/athletes. And yeah, a good number of us partied just as hard as anyone else did back then. Maybe harder. So every time one of you remembers that tall leggy long-haired blonde chick who you probably called a Barbie doll (god how I hated that), that was me. And there was one hell of a lot more "there" than what you saw on the surface. Just saying.

  16. Reine

    Yes, always watch the show.
    Yes, was neglected and abused. Rescued. Reprieved. Recovered.

  17. Reine

    Sort of. I mean, do you ever, really. Really recover? Or do you just keep uncovering? Layer on. Layer off?

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex

    Great blog, and that YA workshop sounds terrific.

    My school years are something I draw a veil over whenever possible. But I'm still here …

    Thank you for the shout out about the e-book giveaway. I downloaded yours and am already reading and enjoying!

  19. Alexandra Sokoloff

    KD, you did what all the smartest parents I know do – you make your house the center of everything so you're the first to know. I love that strategy.

    Sorry about the cheerleader line, but I have and always have had a massive problem with women in the cheerleader role. You know I'm a dancer. It's not a sexual thing, it's a role thing. It brings ALL girls and women down to have these squads catering solely to male needs. It's every way I can think of.

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Z, I'm sorry to hear that about your school years. I would have liked to have known you then.

    I started Killer Instinct last night, too! It's so much fun to read – especially a first novel – when you actually know someone.

  21. KDJames

    Alex, I can see not approving of the role, though I'm not sure how cheering for a team equates to catering to male needs. That evokes a whole different image, for me. What irritates me is the insistence that all cheerleaders are brainless bimbos. That might be true in TV/movies, but in real life, it just isn't. Any more than it's true that all women who use BC are sluts.

    Anyway. I apologize for going so completely off topic. And this is a good one. I will now go sit on my hands until I can be sweet and polite and on topic at all times. This might take a while.

  22. Reine

    Alex, yes… writing. I was up all night with my good friend, Writing.

    Forgot- books that carried me through it all… Anne of Green Gables; Black Beauty; David Copperfield: They all just kept going. I couldn't follow the stories of happiness, although on TV they seemed to hold out hope for me. I have yet to understand the difference of their impact on me, the why and how of it.

    My personal savior who grabbed me out of the muck? My Auntie-Mom. My mother's sister went the legal route and tried to adopt me. Failed. My father's sister just came and got me. She's brilliant. I just sent her a copy of THE PRICE. She will love it. She's an RN from Boston. I recognize every speck of dust in that book, and so will she.

  23. Alexandra Sokoloff

    KD, come on, don't insult me or yourself by acting like I'm somehow the final word on the subject. Please! You feel strongly, I feel strongly. That's life, and that's friends. I didn't think all cheerleaders are brainless bimbos. I don't think all football players are bullies and rapists. But I do think the massively stereotypical roles continue to be damaging. When it's always all women cheering for all men – conclusions are drawn. Brainwashing happens. It's damaging.

    Look at what's happening with the Saints right now. Paying people to injure players on the field? That's criminal thuggery. It's unacceptable.

  24. Alexandra Sokoloff

    God bless your Auntie-Mom, then, Reine. That's one of the things I loe about this show – the adults who step up and say – "I am NOT going to let this kid fall." Thank God it happens in real life, too.

  25. Reine

    Auntie-Mom is a lot like a football coach who knows your strengths and your weak areas. She keeps building your confidence while cheering you on to give it your all, your best shot. She uses metaphor that always seem to suit the situation. She offers hope beyond apparent reality. She has rules. She doesn't punish. She says life takes care of that. She applauds. She cheers. She recognizes your accomplishments. She doesn't reward. She says that's stealing your victory.

  26. KDJames

    LOL! Hell, Alex, if I ever decide to insult either one of us, I hope I do it more decisively than that. The sitting on my hands reference was meant as a wry acknowledgment that everything I say these days (not necessarily here) just pisses someone off (not that you were).

    I think we can agree to disagree. My experience with the subject is different from yours and that diversity is one of the things I value about discussions over here. At my kids' HS, there were guys on the squad and they all cheered at both boys and girls events. The focus was on entertaining and engaging the audience.

    I don't know whether things are done differently in TX. I haven't seen the show (or read the book, supposedly based on real life) but it sounds like the writer(s) are doing more to perpetuate the stereotype than actual real life cheerleaders are. At least, the ones I know. IMO, creating stereotypical characters is lazy writing. Or if it's done deliberately to make a point or serve as a contrast to other characters, it's often dishonest. Again, I haven't seen the show. But it does sound like the majority of the characters are compelling and genuine.

  27. Melanie

    Wonderful article, Alex! And having been to your workshops before, I'm sure the RWA folks will be very lucky to attend this upcoming one. Sounds very insightful — a great reminder of why stories are vital to a healthy society.

    Being an 80s kid, "Room with a View," "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" got me through those years. Full of hope — and acknowledgment of the repression.

    Part of the brainiac/overachiever crowd, I lived in a secure home with loving parents. And still I lived in a non-stop pressure chamber: popping Tums and Pepto-Bismal like they were going out of style, developing intestinal issues that plague me to this day, dealt with an alcoholic, abusive boyfriend and even contemplated suicide on occasion, just for some peace and quiet — none of which I could talk about with anyone. Our one actual mental health counselor, at a school of 2500 students, utlized peer counselors to meet the demand for her services — all of whom I knew, also part of the do-everything-right crowd. If I could have talked with them, I would have already. They were part of the problem.

    In my close crowd of fellow high-achieving female students — a group of 6 that had come up from grade school together — 4 were raped by their boyfriends, 3 binge-drank on a weekly basis, 1 combated an eating disorder that almost killed her several times (while she dealt with her undiagnosed, unmedicated schizophrenic mother), 2 were physically abused regularly, 1 was 'seduced' by the Honors Math teacher (the 1 with an alcoholic father), and 0 of us felt we could talk to each other about any of it. And we were the school 'leaders' who had it all together.

    Teenage problems are real problems. Their darkness is ours.

    The more lifelines we can give them, the better.

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