Sun. May 26th, 2024

Image: “Old Enough” by Haley Jakobson Book Cover

As part of this year’s Gender Justice Conference, Haley Jakobson presented her debut novel “Old Enough” on Wednesday, April 3. Peer Educators for The Center for Women and Gender Equity (CWGE), Haley Mattes and Alexis Stakem, co-hosted a book club for “Old Enough” leading up to the event and were prepared with questions for Jakobson.

The novel centers on Savannah (or Sav for short) as she navigates her college experience as a bisexual young adult and sexual assault survivor. “Old Enough” has been named a New York Times Editor’s Choice and was described by Vogue as “full of heartbreak, growth, and winsome bisexual chaos.”

Jakobson opened the event with a keynote speech, stating that although she’s a published author, she never liked high school — especially English class. 

“I remember asking my AP English teacher if she really thought that writers had all these academic components in mind when they were writing stories. She did not like that I asked that question.” Jakobson was moved back to regular English class shortly after this discussion. 

She did succeed in school, however, when she was allowed to write plays or poems instead of taking tests. What she didn’t like about school was that they took creativity and art and turned it all into facts, lessons and tests, stuffing it all into a box. “And the box, I soon realized, was being extended to me. I was being told what shape I could exist in, what shape I should take,” she stated.

The box became present in other aspects of her life as well. As a bisexual teenager and sexual assault survivor, she didn’t question if her life could take any shape other than the box that was prescribed. She states, “My grades, my rape, my sexuality: the world reflected back to me all the ways my experiences were not enough, did not count.” 

Jakobson has always loved writing and admits that, even though it sounds cliché, she has always been a storyteller. She found it hard to equate her writing with “hard work” as a teen, however, as she thought “hard work” was synonymous with dislike and force. 

After discovering a love for theater in high school, she attended college at a theater school and “finally learned [she] work[s] hard when [she] care[s].” She then found playwriting “and everything that wasn’t writing fell to the background.” 

Since she has graduated and focused more on writing, her life has “taken a beautiful, big, bisexual shape.” Jakobson wrote her debut novel “Old Enough” for her sixteen-year-old self. She describes her protagonist Savannah, who has similar life experiences and identities to herself, as not exactly her, but “a little sister that [she’s] shepherding through the world.”

She said of writing the book, “I needed to write a book that shows what counts. Savannah’s rape counts. Her sexuality counts. Her voice counts.”

Jakobson joked that it might be a surprise to people now that she spends her weeks teaching and loves it. She teaches writing workshops and insists to her students that if you write, you are a writer — you don’t need a degree. She says that while “there’s nothing wrong with going the traditional route, the literary route,” you can go whatever route you want to get your work published. There is no one way, and school doesn’t work for everyone — it didn’t work for her. 

“I love that I published a book with one of the biggest publishing houses in the world, and I used incorrect grammar the entire time,” she said, earning laughs from the crowd. 

Jakobson is currently working on another book about a girl named Emerson who is struggling with undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), something Jakobson lives with herself. Even though the main character struggles with mental illness, there is still humor in the book, which Jakobson describes as “a love letter to gay New York City.” 

“I just want you to remember that, should you ever feel stuck in a box, in school or in your career, in your gender, in your sexuality, please remember there is always an opening at the top of the box.” 


Emma Hogan is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism.

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