‘Note to Sixth-Grade Self’ by Julie Orringer

A story for June
 
This whole collection by Julie Orringer is wonderful. Nine stories of people learning to navigate life, loss and relationships, learning how to breathe underwater. ⁠ All the stories explore the moments of transition between childhood and adulthood, family and independence.
 
In Note to Sixth-Grade Self, the weather is warm and the sky is bright. It opens with: “On Wednesdays wear a skirt. A skirt is better for dancing.” The tone is hopeful but we soon realise the narrator writes to a younger version of herself, guiding her through her very painful pre-teen years. Cruel girls tease her in their ballroom dancing class, they bully her in and out of school. But there’s a final, redemptive scene in which her understanding of people, her hopefulness, is rewarded. The story is mesmerising, and tender. Very wise, very beautiful.⁠

Published in the Paris Review, Winter, 2000, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in How to Breathe Underwater, Knopf, 2003, which is now available as a Vintage Contemporary, 2005

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