In my young adult novel, Defintely Not Sexy, Diana Pushkin and her friends discuss the relative sexiness of their high school classmates and assign themselves to the lowly category of the book’s title. Struggling with low self-esteem, Diana navigates various hurts and hilarity and her major crush on a new student, eventually discovering that some of the classmates she most admires for their sex appeal look up to her for her intelligence and wit.
When it came time to dedicate the book, I thought back to my seventh grade teacher, Douglas Dannay, whom I was lucky enough to have for both English and Social Studies. He was dynamic and challenging and taught me to be a better writer and more analytical thinker. I will never forget the first day of class on the first day of junior high. We were already buzzing in our seats when he held up a piece of yellow chalk and asked what it was. Someone responded, “Chalk.” “No, it’s not,” the teacher said. “Yellow,” someone else called out. “No, it’s not,” the teacher insisted. Or he might ask, “How do you know?” This went on for some time, and we wondered who this guy was and what kind of school we had enrolled in. By the end of the class, Mr. Dannay had convinced us that the words we had been calling out were not the thing itself but mere labels.
I loved learning philosophy in this way and also having ammunition to go home and annoy my parents by trying some of these strange exercises on them. It didn’t hurt either that the teacher was young and handsome, with striking blue eyes. So I guess it makes sense that besides honoring him for what he had taught me, I dedicated a book featuring a crush to him.
I recently got out my junior high yearbook and found what he had written to me: “To the most unusual student in a most unusual class.” I remembered that he had told the parents that our class was amazing, so I feel honored by what he wrote to me!
Here’s the dedication of Definitely Not Sexy: