This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record by Susannah Felts

This Will Go Down on Your Permanent by Susannah Felts

published by featherproof books, 2008

This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record is a story about Vaughn, a sixteen-year-old girl who decides to dump her trio of popular best friends right before school lets out for summer. She has a camera and is excited about her fall photography class, so she shoots pictures regularly. Then, Vaughn sees Sophie, a small, dramatic-looking fifteen-year-old girl sitting on the porch across the street. New neighbor from another state! After Sophie drops hints that she hates her mom and has possibly been sexually abused by her uncle, Sophie is permitted to stay with Vaughn’s family when her mother moves away. The story follows the typical coming-of-age novel: Sophie upsets Vaughn’s life by peer pressuring her into trying pot, starting smoking, and hanging out a Dragon Park with two teenage boys. Occasionally, Sophie doesn’t come home when she’s supposed to, and it’s clear she’s the “faster” of the two girls. The novel is set in the summer of 1989, so no cell phones or computers.

There was nothing particularly 1989 about the story. Cassettes are mentioned a couple of times, and we get a description of a Flock of Seagulls-inspired hairstyle, but Felts makes the mistake many other writers these days do: she sets the novel in a time before personal electronic devices simply to avoid the complication of text messages, social media, and Google. Think about it. How many books have you read lately that are set just before the widespread use of personal tech? I actually discuss this topic in a class I teach about technology and literature, and students can only come up with one book that uses current tech: the Fifty Shades series. So, E.L. James has that going for her.

While the story actually is predictable, there were many times I thought it was going to head into unusual territory. How many times does Sophie seem way too “familiar” around Vaughn’s dad? And isn’t Vaughn’s mom practically out of the picture? She creates handmade jewelry in a shed out in the yard. The mother seemed depressed or neglectful and doesn’t even come in for dinner, leaving room for another person to jump in. I was on the edge of my seat during these sections, predicting the weirdness that would ensue when Mom came out of her jewelry cave and found a teen in bed with her husband. But that never happens.this will go down

The characters lack complexity. Sometimes, they lack motivation. Why did Vaughn dump her trio of friends? Why are they so popular when she seems so non-descript? That’s not typically how teen girl group dynamics work. Even though Vaughn was independent enough to dump her popular friends, she’s enough of a pushover for Sophie to talk her into smoking, pot, and getting into cars with strangers with almost no effort.

The title is inspired by the damning potential of a photo printed and kept as evidence. Sophie is Vaughn’s model all summer; she has a unique defiant yet poverty-stricken look. But when Sophie gets the camera in her hands, she catches Vaughn in incriminating situations. The power of the camera is never fully explored, as the potential to control someone through blackmail, even the high school kind, is left untouched. Overall, This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record cracks open doors but never explores what’s in the room.



  1. I totally understand your comment about when novels are set to avoid the complexities of technology. However, I think that has to do with the concept of a Computer Native vs. a Computer Immigrant. An immigrant is someone who was introduced to these technologies later in life, so they have a learning curve. Versus a native who has intuition around technology since they grew up with it.

    I wonder how many of the authors who are “avoiding” technologies such as texting and social media are really immigrants who don’t understand how it affects the lives of teens? I feel like younger authors do a great job integrating texting and social media into their writing. For example, What Is A Soulmate by Lindsay Ouimet features texting and a Facebook equivalent fairly prominently.

    Question about this book though– it seems like this didn’t really float your boat. What about it made you want to pick it up?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good question, Jackie. I really like Featherproof Press. They’re a “little guy” press. At one point, they had flash fiction you could print out that came with instructions on how to fold the story in to origami. I like their spunk, their creativity, their silliness. So, at one point I bought most of their books. One of them is titled The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense. Another is titled Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring.

      I agree with what you say about the computer native vs. immigrant. I used my first computer in 8th grade, for example. The question is, though, not does a character know how to use technology, but do they recognize that it even exists. Felts doesn’t even acknowledge the Walkman, Nintendo, the VCR, or 3-D glasses. These are all things that teens of the 80s encountered and would be familiar with. She mentions a boom box and tape cassettes a couple of times.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll have to checkout The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense. That sounds right up my alley.

        Hm. Do you think that the addition of those technologies would have enhanced the story? As a child, I didn’t have a lot of technology in my life, so I might not have noticed the absence of it in this novel.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Actually, my family didn’t have a lot of technology either, but either way it’s all around us, even in a commercial, or a kid who walks by wearing a Walkman. Small things. The use of technology doesn’t have to be a big dump of tech (which some authors do to really, really reassure us of the time period), but subtle things.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. It sounds like this story has so much potential. A real shame the author didn’t push it a little harder. I’m with you in that it’s annoying when authors (esp. YA authors) deliberately set their stories just before texting and social media became widespread. I can kind of understand it, in that technology is developing so quickly, and is such a part of young people’s lives, that incorporating specific technologies and digital platforms into a story can date the story really quickly. (It was one of the few things that irked me about 13 Reasons Why–like, jeez, make a podcast.) But I really love it when authors use it. A YA book I read last year, The Assassin Game, did it quite well, as does the recent Scream reboot TV series. I also recently read a great YA novel set in the early 90s, but it specifically focused on AIDS and public perceptions about AIDS in Australia at the time, and the author used that to explore the wider issue of victim blaming, so in that story, the historical setting works really well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you’ve been reading a lot of great books. I share an article with my students about how authors don’t use technology in fiction. The author points out that one writer who does it well without becoming clunky is Michael Chabon, but I haven’t read him! Also, I did NOT know there was a Scream TV show!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t read Chabon either, but I think I have a copy of one of his books floating around, maybe at my parents’ place. The Scream series is on Netflix. There are two seasons. It’s a different story line from the films, but it has the same feel: snappy dialogue, self-reflexive, a little tongue in cheek. If you’re a fan of the films, it’s worth a watch.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry this book didn’t live up to its potential 😦

    “Felts makes the mistake many other writers these days do: she sets the novel in a time before personal electronic devices simply to avoid the complication of text messages, social media, and Google. Think about it. How many books have you read lately that are set just before the widespread use of personal tech?”

    Too many. I never really thought of it this way before. I’ve read a few contemporaries set in the 80s/early 90s that didn’t give off the vibe of the era. I often wondered why the author didn’t just choose to set it in more modern times? I never thought about the fact that this setting avoids the complication of technology…. sounds like a cop-out! It all makes sense now…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My first question upon reading your review is why the protagonist dumped her friends and the fact that the book doesn’t give a good explanation for this already has me scratching my head. That cover looks like so much fun and I’d totally be on board with reading a contemporary that takes place in the late 80s, but this one looks like it falls short. Still enjoyed your review!

    Liked by 1 person

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