Throughout his teenage years, the main character of My Crunchy Life, Kale Oswald, has gone to extraordinary lengths in his effort to find himself.
He has been preppiness personified.
He has journeyed down the Goth path.
And now he is a hippie.
One day in late August, just before he entered his junior year in high school, Kale professed to live by a conduct code he created for himself, after a lengthy research session on what it means to be a hippie.
In truth, though, Kale’s effort to live the hippie lifestyle revolves far more around social and cultural issues than intensely profound, and gravely critical ones. In Kale’s search for identity, his top priority is to look the part. He wears his hair in dreadlocks, as did his music idol, reggae singer-songwriter and cultural icon Bob Marley. (Don’t tell Kale, but there’s debate as to whether wearing dreadlocks has genuine “hippie” roots, or is actually more a “woke humanist” style choice, and possibly even borders on cultural appropriation.)
Kale perceives his dreadlocks to be a visual declaration to the world that he is open-minded and free-spirited…even if he’s not. Kale also makes a significant effort to dress in eco-friendly fabrics—a favorite of his are hemp-casual yoga pants… even if they’re pretentious and he knows it. His current music is that of protest—Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix—his diet is vegan, and he joins a local human rights organization because he knows that as a good hippie, he must have a worthwhile cause… even if fighting for human rights isn’t his true calling.
Kale is a boy in search of self. He doesn’t know exactly who he wants to be, and therefore, tries on a range of different identities, hoping to find one that fits. Society is comfortable with his attempts to be preppy or goth or hipster. And though his search for self feels compelling, and at times all-consuming, he is also relatively comfortable, knowing that he’s a boy in search of how he fits into the world. Kale is challenged by the concept of his true identity, but in a different way from the other main character in My Crunchy Life.
Julia Mendez has had a completely different experience with the concept of identity than Kale. She knows exactly who she is, but doesn’t feel free to express this reality in public—at least not with the assurance of physical and emotional safety. And so Julia, living as Julian, has for years done her best to exist as the person others see, rather than who she actually is.
Born into a physically male body that doesn’t match her female gender identity, she has long seen no other option. Pressured by a world—full of family and friends and teachers and more—that has no concept of the distress she endures, she does her best to live as a boy. Society is extremely uncomfortable with her desire to express her true identity.
At the beginning of Julia’s junior year in high school, before My Crunchy Life begins, it all became too much to cope with. The constant pressure to live as a gender with which she didn’t identify, combined with her own inability to fully comprehend what was happening in her mind and body, convinced her that continuing on in life was futile. Julia, living still as Julian, attempted to commit suicide to end the confusion and pain that tortured her. Her attempt to end her life failed, and she began to receive counseling. Julia was finally open with her mother about her struggle, and together, they searched for a solution.
Only when she is able to express the truth of her gender identity in its entirety, a process that occurs throughout the story, can Julia conceive of living in peace to adulthood, and beyond. She plans to continue to present herself, in public, as Julian until she moves forward with her transition and begins to attend online high school.
A comfort with one’s identity becomes critical in adolescence. Many forces contribute to the formation of human identity. The people surrounding teenagers impact them significantly. Molded by daily observation and interaction with family, friends, and teachers, impressionable youth grow into their adult selves. The material kids see on television and online, hear in music lyrics, and read in books and on blogs also help to shape their identities. And there are forces, such as religion and other types of spirituality, that contribute to making them unique individuals.
But what about human biology as a contributing factor? There are chemical and hormonal, as well as genetic influences, that contribute to human identity. We cannot ignore this important factor of identity formation, in particular when considering gender identity. And the process of understanding and freely expressing one’s gender identity is critical to the human experience.
My Crunchy Life is a work of YA fiction with LGBTQ characters and an element of romance. The theme is of the adolescent need to find, understand, accept, and embrace their identities.