Lina's Tips: Student Writer Bridges Gap Between Teens and Their Parents

By Lina Badih
Staff Editor

Rachel Sa was in grade 12 and already an aspiring journalist looking for a byline. "A single byline," as she puts it, "so insignificant to others, so important to me."

A frustrated co-op student with the Toronto Sun newspaper, she pitches a story to her editor, who, in turn, agrees to run the story as a special column. The story generates overwhelming feedback from readers, and before the end of her term, Sa is a regular columnist with the Toronto Sun at the age of 17.

That was Sa's lucky break.

Today, Sa, 21, appears every Saturday in the Toronto Sun, with her take on issues that affect her and other young people, from bullying at school to taking a same-sex date to the prom. Sa doesn't claim to speak for her generation, but what she offers is a distinct point of view through her youth and inexperience.

In hindsight, that school co-op program turned out to be the best career move Sa has ever made. Her Toronto Sun column caught the eye of the president of Stewart House Publishing, Ken Thomson. Thomson read Sa's column regularly and often found it "a good starting point to discuss issues with his children," says Sa, who is syndicated across the country. Stewart House approached Sa, and a few months of brainstorming resulted in the book, What Rachel Sa: A Field Guide for Parents.

The book is a collection of Sa's best articles that she has written for the Toronto Sun. The articles are grouped under youth-related topics such as "The Stuff Parents Hate," "Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 or Over 30" and "I’m in Love with My Car," among others. The book includes readers' letters as well as Sa's replies to those letters, in addition to her reflections on the articles.

What Rachel Sa is Sa's lifelong dream come true, considering she's been receiving rejection letters from book publishers since age 10. "For me, holding a copy of my book for the first time was the closest I have ever come to a spiritual experience in my short life," she recently wrote in her column.

Sa aims, through her book, to help bridge the gap between youth and the older generation. Both groups are readers of her weekly column. Says Sa: "I get letters from parents saying that their kids put them on to my writing and from kids saying their parents put them on to my writing."

Each generation will get something different out of the book, she says. It will give parents "an idea, if not what their kids think - because I don't think that all young people hold my opinion - just the idea that their kids do think," she adds. "Because some people just assume that all we're about or we were about was, you know, the proverbial sex, drugs and rock and roll."

As for the younger generation, Sa hopes they will be inspired by her book to pursue their dreams and by the forum she's been given to speak out as a young person. "I hope other young people who are frustrated, who feel like their parents or other adults don't take them seriously can see that young people do have an opportunity to have their voices heard," she says.

Sa will be starting her third year at the University of Toronto in September, where she's studying English as a specialist degree and professional writing as a minor. And like many other university students around this time of year, Sa is looking for a summer job. But this summer, she's looking for "experience, not just for money." She wants to get her feet wet in journalism. "I'm kind of past the retail stage," she says. "I'd like to polish my reporting skills. I really think that to be a really good columnist, you need to be a reporter as well."

Sa's search for a career-enhancing summer job has so far been unfruitful, which was the subject of her column two weeks ago. However, in the meantime, she is keeping herself busy. She is working on a novel about a young woman's journey of maturity, during which she learns that "things are a lot more complicated than she thought... it's basically a year of a young woman's life and how she goes from innocence to experience."

Sound familiar?

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