Friday, October 6, 2017

Guest Post with Cyndy Etler

Photo Content from Cyndy Etler

A modern-day Cinderella, Cyndy Etler was homeless at fourteen, summa cum laude at thirty. Currently a young adult author and teen life coach, Etler spent sixteen years teaching troubled teens in schools across America.

Before she was paid for teaching Etler did it for free, volunteering at public schools and facilities for runaway teens. Today she speaks at fundraisers, schools and libraries, convincing teens that books work better than drugs.

Within a year of graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with a Bachelor's degree in English and American studies, Etler held a Master's degree in secondary education. Along the way she picked up numerous awards, including the Student Leadership Award in her junior and senior years and the prestigious American Studies Department Book Award in her senior year. Her debut memoir, THE DEAD INSIDE, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in April of 2017. The sequel will be published in the fall of 2017.

After years of hopscotching, Etler now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and dogs. Find her at


Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (October 3, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1492635766
ISBN-13: 978-1492635765


"Etler's gutsy present-tense narration of her feelings of insecurity and isolation is interwoven with the sublime moments of joy she experiences in music, in writing, and in her relationships; her prose dazzles with infectious verve. A powerful story of a survivor whose irrepressible personality shines throughout even her darkest moments." 

“Like watching a great horror flick. You really want to cover your eyes, but you just can’t! Compelling. Scary. Totally real.” —Ellen Hopkins, New York Times Bestselling Author of CRANK

The teen years are rough for everybody. They were especially rough for me. At thirteen, because I was being abused, I ran away from home. Because I ran away, I got locked up in notorious “tough love” program Straight Inc. After sixteen months of being brutalized in that windowless warehouse, I was a freak. A zombie. A cult-kid.

Then they let me out. And everything got worse.

When you return to your abusive home as a broken program puppet, you don’t have survival tools. All you have is what the program gave you: obedience, shame, and confessional skills. But they couldn’t kill my hormones, and they couldn’t quite kill my optimistic streak.

So I got through. I survived thanks to the four S’s, those basic pillars of teenage development. Experience them with me, here, with quotes from my latest memoir, We Can’t Be Friends, sequel to The Dead Inside


My high school was full of Aussie-scrunched cheerleaders and Bud-hoisting jockos. Even those kids, I’m sure, had their share of self-doubt. But my self-doubt was justified, with my cult lingo and my vocal fear of “bad influences.” Here’s me, compared to the brilliant funny boy I wouldn’t admit I had a crush on.

“Me? I’m not funny. I’m a weirdo who talks too much. And because I talk so much, some of the stuff that comes out happens to be funny. It’s a law-of-averages thing.”

I also had a crush on English class. Ohhhh, those luscious vocab words! They were my crutch in the toughest moments.

“I catch a whiff of myself, and God. I’m a Mrs. Skinner vocab word. I’m a cacophony of smells. Face-smell, pit-smell, and something-else smell. When I sit down to put my underwear back on, I feel like I might fall over. Like, what just happened?”

My other crutch was God, and God trumps peers.

“I run out of the bathroom so hard I hit myself in the face with the door. The sharp shock of it keeps me from hearing Mary’s and Donna’s laughter. From knowing they’re gonna tell the whole school, ‘God told Cyndy Etler to stay away from cigarettes.’”

Does any teen actually feel like they fit in? Or are some just better at pretending? I was one of those who are extra bad at pretending. The social structure, the hierarchy of “pretty at the top; raunchy at the bottom” didn’t feel right to me. Still doesn’t. Here’s my fifteen-year-old self’s POV on where I fit.

“It can get pretty creepy, sitting in a tidy row of Masuk desks, sunbeams streaming down on me and the rest of the deodorized fifteen-year-olds. It’s just too…civilized. I’m more comfortable holding hands with dirt-nailed junkies for the closing Narcotics Anonymous prayer.”

“Mack” was that super-rare kid who had his own social structure. I think it, like, floated in circles around the rest of us.

“Everybody’s fine with Mack because…because he’s fine with himself. He’s always smiling, he never has his homework, and he doesn’t give a shit if he’s eating lunch alone. The popular kids don’t make fun of him, because he doesn’t care.”

S #3: SEX
You knew this was coming, didn’t ya. You’ll have to read the book for the deets, but suffice it to say, when you’re a girl who doesn’t fit in, you can always find some company. Sad but true. Here’s how I envisioned the type of girl who did fit in, the kind who’d snag a guy like Grant, my personal dreamboat.

“When you’re perfect, of course you have a girlfriend. And she’s perfect too. Like, blond braid down a suntanned back, bikini with a sleeveless Izod over it, no makeup except pink Bonnie Bell. It’s that science-nature law. Darwin.”

Eventually Grant was replaced by another yuppie-in-training. By this time, I had learned how to win with boys: by keeping your mouth shut.

“I flick my eyes up for a second and he’s smiling at me. With his eyes, even. It’s the same feeling as if a butterfly lands on your hand: elation, because it chose you; plus terror, because if you even breathe, the miracle’s over.”

I may have had God, but it was music and writing that saved me. We Can’t Be Friends is a long, long love letter to pop music and English teachers; I can’t disrespect them by splicing up their scenes. Instead, I’ll draw goodies from outside the book’s covers.

There are a number of dance clubs mentioned in the book, including “sober” Club 12, at Exit 19 in Southport, Connecticut (image!), The Haven on the Connecticut/New York line, and The Roxy (image!)

Even Kirkus, the OG book review mag known for being “outlandishly harsh,” caught the vibe, noting, “Etler’s gutsy present-tense narration of her feelings of insecurity and isolation is interwoven with the sublime moments of joy she experiences in music, in writing….”

Catch the sublime yourself. Hear all the music that saved me, that got me normal, on Spotify.

I may still be a freak, but I’m no longer a zombie. And if I’m in a cult, it’s a cult of one. The S’s were my ladder up and out; they got me to where I am today, living my dream of being an author who gets killer Kirkus reviews. Aww, yessssss.

Cyndy Etler is the author of young adult memoirs The Dead Inside and We Can’t Be Friends (Sourcebooks Fire). Her books take readers into her sixteen months in Straight Inc., a teen treatment program the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway teens,” and then back to her druggie high school, packed with dangerous jockos and cheerleaders.

High school sucks for a lot of people. High school extra sucks when you believe, deep in your soul, that every kid in the school is out to get you. I wasn't popular before I got locked up in Straight Inc., the notorious "tough love" program for troubled teens. So it's not like I was walking around thinking everyone liked me.

But when you're psychologically beaten for sixteen months, you start to absorb the lessons. The lessons in Straight were: You are evil. Your peers are evil. Everything is evil except Straight, Inc.

Before long, you're a true believer.

And when you're finally released, sent back into the world, you crave safety. Crave being back in the warehouse. And if you can't be there, you'd rather be dead.

This is the story of my return to my high school. This is the true story of how I didn't die.

You can purchase We Can't Be Friends at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SOURCEBOOKS for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of We Can't Be Friends by Cyndy Etler


  1. Plenty, not enough room to list. But it has shaped me into who I am today.

  2. I think most people have done things that they've regretted, myself included.