I Re-Read My Year 8 Diary And, Yep, ‘Eighth Grade’ Is Pretty Spot On
As I sat in the cinema watching 'Eighth Grade', I was catapulted back to my own early teenage life.
The Bo Burnham film follows Kayla, a quiet and observant eighth grader who longs for the acceptance of her peers, feels insecure about her place in her world's social hierarchy, is exasperated with her dad's desire to connect with her, and spends her time scrolling endlessly through her Instagram feed, making advice vlogs for her YouTube channel that basically no one is watching, and trying to flex for the 'gram by capturing the perfect 'effortless' selfie.
As I watched Kayla navigate life, I considered my own experience in eighth grade, suspecting that my own 13-year-old self would have been similar to her, had I been in year 8 more recently than 1999. I recalled every time I was a complete asshole to my parents, and considered the absolutely pivotal role that hanging out at the mall with my friends played in my life. I remembered the desire to be accepted for ~who I was~ -- without knowing who that was -- and the need to be wise far beyond my 13 years.
Lucky for me, I have a record of my life through years seven to nine: my diaries, and my memory boxes, which are very similar to the time capsule boxes that the teens in Eighth Grade have made -- and took a little trip down memory lane. Here’s what I found.
My life was just as repetitive and non-eventful as Kayla’s
Kayla goes to school, spends time online, and the scenes blur together in hindsight because there’s.... just not that much going on. Looking through my diary, it’s an endless stream of school, trips to the video store with meticulous records of every film I ever hired, “nothing happened today” entries, and recaps of Friends, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek episodes. Even on my dad’s birthday, my entry for the day reads as follows:
It was dad’s 57 [sic] b’day today. Dawson’s Creek was sooo sad! After Andie (that self-absorbed bitch) kicked Jen and Abby out of the wedding they got pissed and went down to the jetty, then Abby fell off her seat and hit her head and then ‘coz she was drunk she fell off the jetty into the water and she died. I was sitting totally bawling my eyes out ‘coz Abby was like, one of my favourite characters and I’ll miss her so much, but then again there’s always Jen. G’night!
<3 Steph RIP Abby
The miniscule is put on blast and forgotten just as quickly
The stakes for this film are not high, but anyone who can recall the horror of trying to fit in will know that for a 13-year-old navigating the world, the smallest things in life can feel like life or death situations.
Throughout my diary, the tone is one of high highs and low lows. Every time I’m angry, I write that I'm “being tormented” or “dealing with trauma so I can’t write right now!”. When I’m excited, the adjectives I throw around are “groovy”, “funky” (this is a good time to remind you that it was 1999 and these words were in vogue) “brilliant” and “so cool!” The way I describe what I now recall as a fairly average existence is extremely dramatic, and the influence of reading hundreds of Sweet Valley novels is very apparent. Here’s an example of me recalling a fight with my brother:
I HATE MICHAEL. He put a giant rip in my purse because I bent four measly sparklers! They cost like, 50 cents each! And whose side do Mum and Dad take? MICHAEL’s! I hate him so f**king much I could just punch him until he was almost dead, but not quite, because then he’d suffer for longer! I HATE HIM!
I had no concept of my parents trying to protect me
Throughout Eighth Grade, Kayla's father -- played by Josh Hamilton -- spends his time trying to connect with her, trying to encourage her and trying to protect her. Kayla's reaction to this sits between irritation and mortification for the majority of the film.
My diary had endless reports of all the ways my parents had done me wrong. In one entry, I recall the glee of being wolf-whistled in my school uniform by a "much older guy". In another, I yearn for my parents to stop 'following me' so that guys could approach me:
I was just sitting there eating my cheeseburger when I noticed another guy checking me out in my denim mini-dress! Except he wasn't such a pervert sleaze as the other guy 'coz all he did was just keep looking at me. I swear, I'd be in so much trouble if my parents didn't like, follow me everywhere.
All in all, the film does a wonderful job of depicting the excruciating existence of life at 13, and I'd highly recommend you all go see it.
Eighth Grade hits cinemas from January 3.
Feature image: A24