“You Are the Electric Boogaloo” by Geoff Herbach is a short story written in an epistolary form, as a letter addressed by the narrator to his teen self. As is the norm in the epistolary form, the story is written in first-person narrative.
American author Geoff Herbach is primarily known for writing adolescent fiction. He has been the recipient of several awards including the Minnesota Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Cybil Award for Young Adult Fiction.
You Are the Electric Boogaloo | Summary
Addressing the letter as “Dear Teen Me”, the narrator begins by telling his younger self that “humiliation and hilarity are closely linked”. He asks him to get up from the bed and stop replaying the traumatizing incident in his head, where his shirt stuck to the dance floor, and is glad that it happened. He reminds his younger self that he loves him and his break-dancing crew, revealing that his younger self was, in fact, a dancer. He loves their quirky “butterfly” pants and the giant piece of cardboard that functions as a mobile dance floor for them to dance around in traffic in hope of catching the eyes of a “talent scout”. He applauds his courage to express his passion for dancing and encourages him to keep trying.
He especially loves the incident that had been the source of humiliation and embarrassment for his younger self. The letter reveals that the narrator and his crew had challenged Dubuque’s 4+1 crew to a dance-off i.e., a dance battle. They practised, worked hard, and got T-shirts with the crew names emblazoned on them. However, inside the venue, Five Flags, the floors were very sticky, making the dancers sweat through their shirt and their flesh sticking to the floor, painfully twisting as they tried spinning on the floor, factors that none of them had anticipated. As they writhe on the floor howling in pain, the spectators laugh, traumatizing the narrator. However, his older self tells him that they had indeed appeared funny, revoking the link between humiliation and hilarity.
He asks his teen self to stop overthinking it, wondering if he had gone wrong somewhere and blaming their opponents for the fact that their T-shirts did not stick to the ground. He asks him to go to sleep and wake up to prepare for the next performance, assuring himself that everything is going to turn out well in the end. Having seen a lot more in life than what he did as a teenager, he knows that what one remembers in life are not the “boring victories”, but the “grand, majestic, hilarious failures”, and is proud of oneself to have had the courage to move past the fear of failures and get up and try again. Nobody knows what would have happened if the narrator and his crew had succeeded in the contest. But they didn’t, and to think about the other possibilities is futile and painful. So, he once again encourages his teen self to get up and keep following his dreams.
You Are the Electric Boogaloo | Analysis
The story is essentially about self-love and self-acceptance. It highlights the importance of accepting one’s own past, even the bits that are embarrassing or actions that are regrettable, and being proud of one’s past self. It also shows that personal growth can only be achieved through having faith and confidence in one’s own self, and through pursuing one’s dreams with determination and persistence. I
t is important to come to terms with our failures and not be ashamed of them, as failures are an intrinsic part of one’s growth as an individual. It is also necessary to be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes and have the courage to get up and try again. At the end of the day, success is sweetened further by the medicinal bitterness of failures, and consequently, we remember them much more than we remember our wins as we learn from our mistakes far more than we learn from our wins. While the letter admirably preaches self-love and self-acceptance, it also hovers dangerously close to toxic positivity.
The narrator fails to understand the trauma that the Five Flags incident and the subsequent humiliation had created in his younger self, and ends up trivializing it, failing to grasp the gravity of the experience. He also does not understand that recovery from a traumatizing experience requires a lot of time and self-work, and encouraging one to “Just go to sleep and get ready for the next dance” does nothing better than repressing the trauma, effectively shoving the issue under the carpet until it comes back to haunt later in life in a much worse shape.
You Are the Electric Boogaloo | Themes
Self-Love – The letter to one’s younger self, centres upon the idea of loving one’s own self with all its perfections and imperfections. It also highlights the importance of being proud of one’s own triumphs as well as of one’s courage to rise from one’s failures and try again.
Self-acceptance – The letter teaches the necessity of accepting one’s own mistakes and moving past them as failures are an inherent part of our learning curve, teaching us way more than successes. It is also important to not let failures demotivate one from pursuing one’s own dream.