Okay—circle of trust here. After dropping my youngest child off at college all the way from San Antonio, Texas, to Lawrence, Kansas, at The University of Kansas, I simply said goodbye and drove the 11 hours back home. Except, as soon as I got to our house, I stepped into the hallway bathroom and broke into an ugly cry.


I could, but won’t, make a list of all the times I’ve ugly cried, but that’s exactly what Quinn, the main character in Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney does. Quinn makes lists, lots of them, that she keeps in her journal.


Along with chronicling the times she’s ugly cried, she also has a list about Carter Bennett:


  1. Cool in every respect of the word.
  2. Attractive. As. Hell.
  3. A “real Black guy,” as I’ve heard it put around the halls of our predominantly white school, which makes me wonder about the authenticity of my own Blackness… (3)


Another of Quinn’s lists is IF I COULD KISS ANYONE, which happens to include one Carter Bennett. Of course, none of this is all that bad except that Quinn’s dad comes home to find Quinn working on a school assignment with Carter, a Black boy he’s never met, dressed in what he deems to be less than respectable. Quinn’s father, despite being a Black man himself, is less than cordial to Carter. This is made even worse when Quinn discovers that the journal she picks up is not hers but Carter’s and Carter has left with hers.


And things only get worse from there when Carter loses the journal and Quinn begins to get mysterious messages threatening to expose items from her lists to the school if she doesn’t accomplish all the tasks on her TO DO BEFORE I GRADUATE list. And to prove the threat is serious, with only a short time before graduation, the entire school gets number five on the to-do list: “Tell my parents I didn’t get into Columbia.” (41)


Both of Quinn’s parents are Columbia alums.


Set in Austin, Texas, the story is a charming and fun jaunt around Texas that will have readers making lists of their own. And even though there is a college situation involving The University of Texas that my admissions counselor friend at UT says would NEVER happen, you should still put this on your list.


Norris Kaplan in The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe is having his own issues with a journal. After moving from Canada to Austin, Texas, when his mother takes a lecturer position at UT, Norris has to not only try and fit in as the Black French Canadian new kid, but he has to do so in the Texas heat as a kid with an excessive sweating condition.


Norris doesn’t know it, but his problems begin when he shows up to register for school and the counselor gives him a diary.

“One last thing,” she added as she saw him getting up to leave. “We had this initiative for diaries…” she began reaching into a drawer.

“I’m not much of a diary keeper, ma’am,” Norris said, taking the proffered notebook. It was small and inoffensive-looking enough.

“Try it! You get to see the school, the city, the state, the entire American experience from an outside perspective!” Her voice had gone higher with every new perspective she’d listed. Jesus. How was this person in charge of children again?

“That perspective—that’s a rare gift,” Kolb continued. “And definitely something worth chronicling!” (19–20)


And that’s what Norris does. He chronicles his encounters to create The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. The trouble is that some of his, okay, most of his entries, are on the harsh and judgmental side. 


Readers get a taste of that tone in an exchange Norris has with a squad of Texas cheerleaders at his new high school.

Aren’t words fun, Madison?”

Norris decided then and there that all their names had to be Madison: the brood of some Queen Mother Madison pushing out egg after slimy egg of mindless cheerleader drones somewhere in the Texas desert.

“That’s seriously so sexist,” the black Madison said.

“I read that’s called a microaggression,” Pink Alpha Madison added.

Norris clicked his tongue, exploring every facet of the notion. “I don’t believe you read,” he eventually concluded. “I really don’t.” (29)


Of course one of the cheerleaders is actually named Madison, and she and Norris eventually become friends, and even like each other until, in a mean-girl moment, someone quotes what Norris wrote about Madison to her.

“Canada, stop!” Maddie said, stepping in and employing the authoritative tone of hers that could command a kitchen full of grown men at the Bone Yard. “This is so not worth it. Let’s just go get some air, all right?”

“Sidekick Barbie to the rescue,” Aarti said. “Accessories include cell phone, barbeque sauce bottle, and Meredith Santiago’s tampon case.”

An uncomfortable sensation formed in Norris’s stomach at her words. He felt something roiling.

“What the hell is your problem, Aarti?” Maddie asked Aarti.

“Oh, that wasn’t me, babe,” Aarti said, her voice low and detached and taking on a new edge. “That was just my favorite line from your entry in Norris’s field guide.” (299–300)


Norris finds himself as the author of his own international incident. 


Field Guide is heartwarming and filled with wicked and witty banter. It also has an important law enforcement moment every Black parent and child must consider, but at its core, Field Guide reminds us that our words matter and that people are often so much more than the caricatures we create for them.


Download the mini lesson below for a fun classroom activity on journaling and making their own "field notes."



Michael Méndez Guevara is a former high school journalism and English teacher who spent his time in the classroom helping students see themselves as writers and fall in love with reading through the world of young adult literature. As an educational sales consultant with Perfection Learning®, Michael works with teachers and schools on improving their literacy instruction and providing resources to help students achieve academic success. He has taught elementary school, middle school, and high school and has worked as a district level leader and served on the Texas state standards revision committee that developed the state’s current literacy standards. He is the father of three adult sons, the youngest a student at the University of Kansas—Rock Chalk! Michael is working on a professional development book for literacy educators and currently has agents reading the manuscript of his young adult novel, The Closest Thing to a Normal Life. When he's not reading, writing, or running, Michael is fully committed to watching as much Law & Order as possible.