Jul 31 2010 10:49am

That New Kid Smell: The Allure of the New Kid at School

I’ve seen it brought up frequently online recently: Why are all the heroes in YA paranormals new kids at school?

Because new kids are hot.

No offense to the vast majority of readers who had more stable home lives and probably never needed to move around, but, having been a teacher of middle school and high school students, the new-kid-in-town phenomenon is a common occurrence in schools. I actually recall one teen boy (who was quite used to getting the girls’ attention) complaining to me between classes shortly after a new student was introduced because all of the girls were suddenly after the new boy.

My main character (and narrator of 13 to Life), Jessie, likens the reaction girls have to Pietr Rusakova on his first day at Junction High to new cars smelling the best and new toys being shiniest. But she doesn’t truly comprehend the strange effect a new presence can have.

Introduce a new wolf into a pack and what happens? There’s a sudden scramble and fight to determine the interloper’s social standing—a shuffle of alliances may occur.

Just like in middle school and high school. The social standings that once seemed so firm—the connections that appeared so unbreakable—can be severed by the introduction of someone new. In books, as in life, it allows for a great new perspective and a way to shake things up in what was thought to be a comfortable group. And that’s before you find out the fresh meat’s a werewolf, or dragon, or unicorn with authority issues. Whatever.

Yes, right now the allure of the new kid in town is showing up a lot in books. But just because it shows up frequently doesn’t mean it’s less authentic to the teen experience. And it certainly doesn’t mean authors are copying each other (all you have to do is have a clear understanding of the traditional publishing schedule to know how wrong that is).

Think back to your time in high school. Did you ever listen to the sudden blossoming of interest when an exchange student arrived at your school? Or the way curiosity grew when a kid was transferred in from another school due to some “issue”? I remember a girl who transferred into a school I worked at (for fighting). The only thing that squelched the boys’ interest in her was the fact she could take down most of them in a rumble without batting an eye.

In all my time in the public school system I only once saw the new kid phenomenon fail. A small (for his age) boy who had been home schooled and taught the value of humility and polite behavior never fully benefited from being “new.” He just slid into that strange and fluid mid-range level of peer groups and was accepted.

Although our species often clings to the known and reacts with a definite “fear of the unknown” it seems teens don’t have this same issue when it comes to pursuing relationships. And let’s face it—if you’ve grown up in a school where most everyone knows everyone else by the time you’ve become a cynical teen, the newest kid at school is the only one full of excitement and possibility—the only one from beyond your drab teen existence. That has an allure all its own.

Previously a teacher and now a farmer raising heritage livestock in upstate New York, Shannon Delany has always been fascinated by history, myths, legends and paranormal research. Her debut series (including 13 to Life and Secrets and Shadows, coming in February 2011) began as the winner of the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world.

This article is part of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Month: ‹ previous | index | next ›
David Bishop
1. teancom
As a military brat, I guess I'm the exception that proves the rule. First of all, any school I went to had a high percentage of military brats, if they weren't 100% military (like they were in Okinawa). The 'allure' of new kids wears off quickly when it happens every few weeks. Secondly, being the new nerd at school wasn't much better than being the old nerd at school. Could ever be worse - being new meant having at *some* attention paid you, which was about the last thing I wanted back then.
Teka Lynn
2. Teka Lynn
I had no idea. If there was a new-student mystique at my schools, I certainly never gained much by it.

Anecdotally, I did see it work the other way in sixth grade. The new kid had an unusual name, and when s/he was called over the intercom for some reason, all the other students started chanting the name. Loudly. In unison. Despite this, he did become very well liked, so maybe it does work.
Alena McNamara
3. aamcnamara
This also has not been my experience--in fact, I would suspect the opposite is true, that it's escapism/fantasy because in not-novels it can be hard to find your place in an already-stable social situation.
Mari Ness
4. MariCats
As a frequent new kid (corporate kid), I had exactly the opposite problem as well - new kids, including me, were targets for hostility, and not knowing the local culture/personalities just made things worse. I also found that students that were transferred in from other schools because of whatever issue were treated even worse. Attention is not always positive.

I'm certain some new kids are able to take advantage of the situation and socially shine - assuming they aren't one of the "issue" kids -- but I don't think it's universal.

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