Karen Rivers

hope, yearning and a bad thing.

Karen Rivers

I am an adult who writes young adult fiction.  I am old but not that old.  I am every age that I've ever been, just like you are, just like all of us.

You might be thirty or forty or fifty on the outside, but scrape your knee so that it's gushing blood and you are instantly six and wishing for your mum. Read a book intended for children and I guarantee you will lose yourself in it the same way you did when you were eight, reading in the crook of the arbutus tree that leaned over your back yard.   Put on some roller skates and you'll be twelve, the pavement rattling unevenly under your wheels while you try to look cooler than you feel.

I've been thinking lately about the question I get asked the most, which is "Why do you do it?" This is in the context, you understand, of why I write YA and juvenile books instead of adult fiction (though truthfully, I do both, I just prefer the former).  And I've had a lot of answers to that over time.  I'm sure if you read back through the blog, you'll catch me contradicting myself as I answer it again and again and again. 

I think I have a new answer today:

I write YA because of the yearning.  

Yearning might well occasionally be present in adult fiction too, but yearning is the bailiwick of YA.  Whether the charcter is yearning for love or family or a sense of belonging or a friend, the yearning is ever present and always magical and transformative.

If there is something better and truer and more relatable than yearning, I don't know what it is. 

There has been a flurry of activity on teh internets about JK Rowling's new book and whether or not she is "good" enough to write adult fiction.  I have nothing new to add to the buzz except to say that I honestly don't think a lot of the writers of adult fiction out there are good enough to write YA.  

It's harder than it looks.

The first thing you have to do is remember how to yearn.

Yearning comes naturally to kids.  We lose it as we become adults.  Yearning becomes wanting becomes "I deserve" becomes entitlement.   Adults are entitled, aren't we?  Children simply have hope that the bad things are going to improve and that the good things are going to stay.


Speaking of bad things, The Birdy is being bullied.  She is five years old (just) and was so excited to start kindergarten that she wore her uniform every day in the summer.   What she didn't expect was that kindergarten was going to mean that she was going to be on the receiving end of a little boy's fists and feet on a daily basis.   

Instead of doing my work today, I am crafting a letter to the school board and the principal, querying the zero-tolerance-to-bullying rule.  Wondering how long it will go on and how far it will go before something is done.  

If I walked to my car each morning and my neighbour ran out of his house and delivered an elbow to my ribs before carrying on his way, he'd be charged with assault.   Five year olds aren't subject to the same rules, of course.  But say it was highschool.   Say a boy was regularly pushing The Birdy down the stairs.   Then what?

Zero tolerance.

But what does that mean?

It seems to mean, "We will tolerate bullying if the people who are doing it are small."

I'm distracted by the bullying and by my helplessness to stop it and by the way she is absorbing it as a matter of course, as just simply part of her day.

"What about recess?"  I say.  "Did anything happen at recess?"

"No," she says, furrowing her brow.  "Nothing.  After lunch, we painted our hands."

I am flooded with relief.  Maybe the bullying is stopping.  Maybe the school's offered solution of moving the kindergarten kids to a separate break and lunch time is helping.

Later, we are doing some art and suddenly she stands up and kicks me ferociously in the shin, so hard that my eyes start to water.  

"What was that for?"  I say, shocked.

"That's what happened at recess," she says. "I forgot to tell you before."  

Then she goes back to colouring her picture.  ("It's the bad boys," she says.  "A monster is eating them.")

How long am I (and is she) to accept this?

I am trying to write a book.  I am trying to edit a book.  I am trying to write a blog post.  I am trying to do my work, answer my emails, follow through on my plot lines, fill out my grant applications, and follow up on why my house is still uninsulated.  I am trying to do all these things, yet all I can think about is "That's what happened at recess, I forgot to tell you before."

"Oh Birdy," is all I can say.  And "Please don't ever kick me again, use your words."  And "I'm sorry that happened to you, did you tell your teacher?"

"No," she says.  "Someone else told for me.  I hope he stops soon. Can you make him stop?"

I hug her tight.

I am trying, Birdy.  

And believe me, I am hoping, too. 

But in this case, I think hope is not enough.   Hope needs to be followed up with meetings and letters and demands and insistence and pressure on the school to act and the schoolboard.   There are letters to write.  And more letters.  And meetings.  And more meetings.

"I am doing my very best," I say.  "I'm doing all that I can."

"I hope it works soon," she says.

"Me too," I say.  "Me too."