Jason Reynolds read a portion of his new book Ghost during the Trauma in YA Literature panel. This particular panel grew me as a reader and writer in multiple ways. As a writer, I was encouraged by Reynolds advice to writing about and through trauma; my characters from my YA final exam are affected by trauma, one in particular, and his advice was helpful. I wrote down his quote: "Trauma is the thing nesting beneath. They only know it as life. There is not a child not laughing; there is not a child not living... Don't make a kid a traumatic event. They are more than that." It reminded me of something I was told by a friend after a significant event in my life: "This was big. It will inform you, but it does not have to define you." Reading Ghost after hearing Reynolds talk about this intentional characterization was not only interesting for me as a reader but also informative as a writer going forward with my own characters.
"Trauma is the thing nesting beneath."
As a teacher, I was able to place Ghost into the hands of a young man who needed it in my Read 180 class. This student--along with so many others--has a difficult home life, and he has withstood his fair share of trauma. When I started this semester, I looked at these students and I saw all the traumatic details I knew about their lives: the abuse cases, mental illnesses, deaths, etc. Now, however, I look at them and see how resilient. I see children who are laughing and living despite the trauma nesting beneath, and it's important to remember how many factors contribute to making them who they are. Those horrific experiences do not define them, but they inform their actions and my relationships with them. Books like Ghost highlight that lesson.
Jeff Zentner and Jay Robin Brown participate in a panel discussing "Religion in the South."
As a reader and writer, this panel attracted me right away. I find it so difficult to write about such a sensitive topic without invalidating the cultural significance of religion in the lives of some young adults. Many books approach this topic by working against religion instead of working with it for a better result. What I love about both Zentner and Brown is that they approach the topic through acknowledging the importance of religion in their characters' lives and developing the internal struggle that all marginalized believers face.
"Wanting to believe something is powerful." ~The Serpent King
Currently, I've read half of The Serpent King by Zentner, and all of Brown's Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruits. From what I can tell, both books approach the characters' religions as a basis from which they can develop deeper, richer, and wiser beliefs. I find this approach necessary because it's dangerous to teach students that growing up means abandoning religion. Like Zentner points out, wanting to believe something is powerful, and it is also not foolish. This aspect of life must grow and change with you, and both authors addressed that point in the panel. As a teacher, I think it's important that my students have access to books that will grow, challenge, and expose their faith in new ways. Both of these novels will be on the shelves of my classroom library, and I can say with confidence, that I will be placing Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruits in the hands of certain students. The work Brown does in this novel to bridge the ignorant gap between the LGBTQ+ community and religion is very respectful and timely. As a teacher, I find this topic relevant. As a reader, I find it powerful. As a writer, I find it inspiring. As a human, I find it necessary.
"Dear heavenly Father... Show me how to be the father she needs and the pastor she wants." ~Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruits