Friday, February 26, 2010

Minimum Wage Magnificence: Money and the High School Job in YA

Raise your hand if you had a crappy job in high school.

It's ok, Laney Boggs did too.
(She's All That was just added to my Netflix queue, BTW.)

Giving your main character a part-time job is a great way to keep your contemporary novel from becoming repetitious. Besides the usual school/home settings, it adds another element to your protagonist's life and offers plenty of plot complications, character development, and who knows what other possibilities. (How about hooking up with a hottie co-worker in the supply room? Yowza.)

*Because I couldn't think of a better title.

Family Business Flunkie
Who wants to work with their parents? Too frequently, this goes unpaid.
YA example: Elizabeth Scott's Perfect You
Kate Brown helps her dad sell vitamins at a mall stand. And he wears a bumblebee costume.

Mall Rat
Cranky shoppers, screaming children, one longgg weekend.
YA example: Robin Benway's Audrey, Wait!
Audrey works at the Scooper Dooper, an ice cream shop at the mall. Sticky mess.

Customer Service Hell
YA example: Ann Brashare's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Tibby spends her summer at WallMan's, the local drug store. Cleanup in aisle five!

Hobby Heaven
YA example: Laurie Faria Stolarz's Deadly Little Secret
Camelia works at a pottery studio and gets to practice her art for free. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Resume Builder
YA example: Robin Brande's Fat Cat
Science-lover Cat works at the Poison Control Center--and doesn't mind at all.

Sweet Escape
YA example: Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver
Sam makes his part-time dinero at a small bookstore where he disappears into his favorite poetry.

Babysitting Maven
Ah, the tween/teen girl staple. Could be horrific or a moneymaker.
YA example: Ann M. Martin's The Baby-sitters Club (Of course!)
Kristy and the gang raked in the dough. 'Fess up -- you totally tried to start your own BSC.

Food For Thought
Even if your character DOESN'T have a part-time job, you as the author should know why not. Where does he/she get all-important spending money? Realistically, does their weekend spending match up with their income or allowance?

A job also hints a lot towards family dynamics and your character's personality. Do the parents need monetary help? Is it a "you have to learn responsibility" thing? Does you character pay for his/her own cell phone bill? Is he/she saving up for something important? And what is the hard-earned dough being spent on?

And Just Because...
What if Hogwarts had work-study?
Harry would be equipment manager for the Quidditch teams, keeping the Beaters' bats in tip-top shape.
Anyone else want an Oliver Wood cameo in the last movie? He was cute!
Hermione would totally man the reference desk in the library. Gotta love that Restricted Section.
It's alright, Hermione. Books make me giddy, too.
Ron would be a member of Mr. Filch's custodial staff, cleaning up Peeves' latest mess. Face it, he always gets the broken end of the wand.
Quality time with Mrs. Norris. Oh yeah.

What was your high school job? (I cleaned instruments at an orthodontist's office. So glamorous.)
Your favorite example from YA lit? Or, what jobs did you give your characters? I have Nina giving phone surveys because it's the most miserable job I could think of for someone who hates being fake-polite. (And yep, I had that job too, and I probably called your house during dinnertime.)

* AND FOR FUN FURTHER READING: This week, YA authors who blog at MTV Books wrote about their high school job experiences! Jennifer EcholsDanielle Joseph, Barbara Caridad Ferrer, and Jen Blazanin have great stories!


  1. I actually didn't have a job in high school and I didn't need one. I was rather lucky in that my parents paid for everything. BUT I did volunteer quite a bit, so one of my current writing projects will involve one of my characters volunteering. I agree, after school work can definitely add to a story.

  2. I lots of jobs, I worked as a Teacher's Aid for Sylvan, Volunteered at the Hospital, and waved signs on the weekend. (I don't remember if this was all at once or at separate times) High school was such a long time ago. lol.

    My favorite YA example is probably just the recent YA I've read, Going Bovine, because Cameron works at Buddha Burger and that place just sounds ridiculous.

    One my story ideas, one of my characters is forced to volunteer at a halfway house for troubled teens. I haven't given any thoughts to what other jobs that my characters have/should have.

  3. I worked as a teacher's aide. I didn't enjoy it. I gave my character a job at the library. Sort of cliche I guess but it works for her.

  4. My very first job (other than babysitting) was at a horse farm. Throughout middle school, I spent my Saturdays mucking stalls, tacking up horses, and giving basic riding lessons. At the end of the day, I was handed a twenty dollar bill for 8 hours of work. Back then, I didn't care that my wages were beyond low; I probably would have done it for nothing, just to be around the horses.

    My first real job, with a legal pay rate and tax withholdings, was at an independent pharmacy across the street from my high school. I first worked as a cashier clerk, but before long I was trained as a pharmacy technician so I could help the pharmacist fill the prescriptions. It was interesting, especially when the crazies came in demanding more narcotics before the refill date.

  5. Haha, nice one Donna!!! My first job was as a barrista for Barnes and Noble, which I got sick of pretty fast, but it taught me everything I needed to know about coffee and the discount was super sweet!

    My MC is really wealthy so she doesn't have to have a part time job, although I did write a lot of work study into my story--her sisters--for fun--man the mail desk in the dorm, plus there is the fact that my MC's constantly roped into volunteering for orientation--so thats kind of her job. :)

  6. I only worked during the summers in high school, and I was a camp counselor at the day camp my high school ran. I spent 7 weeks herding 25 11 year olds around and making friendship bracelets and gimp.

    But my favorite job ever was the work-study I did during college. I worked for the admissions office and was a office assistant, a tour guide, a senior interviewer AND the overnight host coordinator in my four years. I got to read through tons of applications and learn all the secrets. I was also a lifeguard, and I got to guard the senior aqua-cise class, which was awesome.

  7. My parents wouldn't let me get a job in high school. Can you believe that? "There's plenty to do around here if you want to work." Yes, Mom, but doing laundry and shoveling pig manure doesn't pay much, now does it? (I didn't really say that, but I wanted to.)

  8. I would give my left pinky for an Oliver Wood cameo in the last movie. He has only gotten cuter with age...*sigh*

    In high school, I worked as a hostess at Ruby Tuesday, then I got a second job during the summer at an Internet Cafe, and when that closed I worked for my dance teacher at the store she managed, and when that closed (yeah, I'm bad luck) I picked up more hours at Ruby Tuesday, but by then I had to move to the mall location because the one by my house had, you guessed it, closed.

    My main character has a job, but it's not part-time. In my future world, everyone graduates and enters the workforce at 15, so she's been working for two years at a pretty heinous job once the novel opens. But she does it because it pays well and she wants to get out of the slums. The things we do for money...

  9. Fantastic post! My crappy jobs were a huge shaping force in my life. I first worked in my mom's tax business--I knew far more about depreciating farm equipment than any 14-yo reasonably should. A brief stint at Mickey D's got me stuck as a janitor b/c the register was too complicated for me. I went on to be a store clerk like Tibby, doing everything from cashier to dressing mannequins to helping Skoal-chewing thugs pick out spark plugs and air filters. I also tried being an Avon Lady. You totally need to add door-to-door sales to the list! That is sucky job par-excellance.

    I get the sense few kids have jobs in HS any more. My teen friends get a huge laugh out of my experiences, but they only ever babysit. Those store clerk and janitor jobs are hard to come by these days unless you're already a HS grad. The economy is that bad.

    Oh, and my MC doesn't have a job. Her mom was like me with the sucky jobs and mistakenly believes she should spare her daughter the unpleasant experience. That will change in the sequel!

  10. Ha! We had a series of unglamorous jobs growing up. Dentist offices, shoe stores, dry cleaners, we were total renaissance women! But interestingly enough we haven't given our characters jobs! They go to a fancy schmancy private school so maybe they just don't need the money? Definitely food for thought.

  11. Nicole - Lucky! Although... I met my fiance because of my high school job, so I can't complain. :)

    Najela - Buddha Burger! Nice, forgot to include that one. Waving signs on the weekend -- that's a new one!

    Christine Danek - I would've loved to work at a library! Your character is lucky.

    Janine - Love how different your jobs were. So jealous you got to work with horses!

    Frankie - I wonder if you took advantage of the discount... hehe.

    Sara - Gimp! haha. I had like 3 jobs at any given time in college too.

    JenE - Pig manure! And I thought dirty orthodontic instruments were gross.

    Heather - Woo Oliver Wood! I'm wracking my brain to think of if he appeared in the 7th book. And thanks for the input on how this post can apply to some sci-fi/ dystopian/ paranormal/ fantasy books too!

    Laurel - Wow! No wonder you want to be nice to your MC. A decent amount of teens I know have jobs, but it might depend where you live.

    LiLa - I love hearing about some of the random jobs people have had. I actually worked in a kitchen at a Motherhouse as a teen -- meaning, I fed retired missionary nuns!

  12. I started waitressing at the tender age of 16 at a fancy B&B/restaurant. It was awesome, and I got free dinner every night. Actually stayed at the same place until my sophomore year of college! :-)

    I've had one character be a park ranger intern, and another was a TA while in grad school, and that's about it...

  13. Love this post!

    I babysat, worked at my dad's office for a while, and **wait for it** worked as a tanning booth operator.


  14. @ Heather, agreed! Oliver Wood still looks delicious as a crumpet.
    @ Karen, ew. Might what I'm imagining be worse than the real thing? Likely not!

    I was a lifeguard in h.s. (kind of typical) but in college I worked at a candy store! It was the best, but I gained 10 pounds.

    My MC does volunteer work, too. Might that be author's guilt working?

  15. I'm SUPER hot for Wood. And, yes, I know how dirty that sounds. And, no, I don't care. :-)

    In high school, much like Audrey, I worked at an ice cream place in the mall. I also worked at a crazy gift shop, and I sold tickets for sporting events at the university where my mom works.

    My MC in my WIP had a job, then didn't have a job, then had a job, then didn't have a job. I kinda want to give her a job again. She's not a very reliable employee. Heh.

  16. Summer - That sounds like a great job! And park ranger intern is a really cool idea.

    Karen - I don't even want to imagine.

    Sarah Enni - Candy store! I'm impressed it was only 10 pounds!

    Jessica - Dare I say it? Team Wood! hahaha


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