It’s how many of us feel right now. There is no relief, there are no clear answers, and we cannot see clearly through the lashing rain and flying debris of anger, hopelessness, and despair. In reviewing books that deal with the raw issues that brought our country to this point, and how parents and teachers can address them through literature, Beth Kephart, National Book Award Finalist, has honored us with a video interview about her new young adult novel, This is the Story of You.
(Click cover to buy indie)
Mira lives on Haven, a small town on a barrier island, with her mother and chronically ill brother. Winds begin to blow as a storm forms over the water, but the town assumes the storm will fall apart, or at least not be a major event. In an intense, short period of time the storm becomes deadly, and the town is torn apart. Mira will face the storm, and the revelations that come with life after devastating destruction alone, until she decides to let someone in, someone who will help her understand the winds of change that have been blowing through her own life.
As a resident of hurricane country, this book was a heart-pounding read. Kephart manages to capture the almost intangible unease that waiting for a storm brings, when you don’t know how strong that storm will be, if it will fall apart, or it if will tear your life apart. The description of Mira riding out the hurricane alone is terrifying. I have lived through a major hurricane, waiting for the roof to go, and then hoping the trashcan I put under the hole in the ceiling was big enough, waiting a week for power, grateful to at least have running water. This book captures the details of what that experience is like, and much, much more. Kephart also shows a community coming together and trying to heal all while Mira’s knowledge about her own life is changed forever.
Beth talked to me about how this book can now serve as a metaphor for what has just happened in the United States national election. How do you process the terror and fear, and begin to live again, heal again, and try to make things right? She celebrates a character who does not “accelerate despair,” but instead urges us to “remember how good it feels to do good and bring people together,” and “action, that step towards goodness, almost always begins with an open heart.”
Christine at Book Club Advisor: The wind feels like it is a character in this book. How does the wind signal change and problems to come? What winds do you think our country felt before the election and now we are dealing with the damage? How can we being the clean-up?
Christine: Mira’s brother has a life-threatening chronic illness. How do you think caring for someone and thinking about how her brother’s life is different from hers impacts how she sees the world and her capacity for empathy? Why is empathy so important?
Christine: Mira finds out secrets about her family after her town Haven experiences the unimaginable. Do you think her reaction would have been different if she had found out on a normal day?
Christine: The town of Haven comes together under the leadership of an eccentric town resident, one who is give a wide berth previously. Why do you think people take to her after the tragedy?
Christine: Haven comes together after a horrible event. How could the town have acted differently? What do you think makes the difference between people coming together to get things done and lashing out in anger and hurt?
Christine: Mira experiences devastating loss after the tragedy. How do you think she finds the empathy to care for and about people she has just met as much as those with whom she has spent her life? As a country, how do you think we can do that now?
Christine: Mira’s beloved teacher is trying to explain how important the environment is to her class. Could you talk about the relationship you see between the violence we are inflicting on the earth and the violence of superstorms we are now seeing?
Christine: How did you write about someone who has a disease you have not experienced, or any experience very different from yours? What did you do to get inside the character’s head? What do you think we need to do to understand each other, especially those who we see as different from us?
Thank you Beth, for taking such time and care with these questions and the gift of your novel. Beth’s new middle grade novel, Wild Blues, comes out from Atheneum in 2018.
More from Beth Kephart: (click cover to buy indie)