#MHYALit: The Story is Enough: Writing the Books I Needed to Read, a guest post by Jackie Lea Sommers
Today as part of our #MHYALit discussion, we are happy to welcome YA author Jackie Lea Sommers, who discusses solipsism syndrome, OCD, and writing the characters she needed to encounter when she was a teen.
In high school, my friends’ refrain was “Jackie, you think too much!” It was true. Not only was I a dreamer, a writer, and dramatically romantic, I also had undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder that kept a continual civil war going on between me and my own mind for about twenty years. This would venture from time to time into the realms of solipsism syndrome, a type of depersonalization disorder where I would question reality.
I was a voracious reader, but I never seemed to encounter myself in any of the books I read. Anne of Green Gables had my overblown romanticism and flowery vocabulary, but she wasn’t traveling down strange, existential paths as a teen.
I didn’t even know that solipsism syndrome was a real thing until I was in my twenties, at which point I knew I wanted to write about it. In Truest, my first novel, readers encounter a trio of teens—and they are all me. Westlin Beck, the narrator, is a pastor’s daughter trying to navigate faith in an environment where it’s been forced upon her. She loves stories more than anything in the world. Her small-town life is shaken up by Silas Hart, who is a young poet—a “human thesaurus”—who pushes his ideas to their breaking points. His twin sister Laurel has solipsism syndrome; she is deeply wounded and desperate for truth.
These are the characters I needed to meet when I was a teen. To encounter myself would have meant the world to me. Sometimes YA authors are criticized for crafting “unrealistic” teens—expansive vocabulary, sophisticated thought patterns—but when I read those characters I think, “Me, me, me! That was me!” I know there are others.
Right now, I’m working on a second novel that will be published summer 2017, a story about a teenager with undiagnosed OCD. It’s been therapeutic to write—and I feel a genuine obligation to usher the main character toward healing. Although his obsessive themes are quite different from mine, the compulsions are very similar. For both of us, OCD is nearly unrecognizable from the way media so often portrays the disorder, and that’s really important to me. Growing up, I had a limited idea of what OCD looked like: a neat freak, most likely, probably someone who washed his or her hands a lot. This tremendously one-dimensional understanding of OCD kept me in slavery for so many years. I’m trying to write the book that I needed to encounter in high school, one where I could have recognized myself.
I have to walk a bit of tightrope to keep myself from “preaching” about OCD, but I remind myself that the story is enough. The story is always enough.
Meet Jackie Lea Sommers
Jackie Lea Sommers lives and loves and writes in Minnesota, the home Duck Duck Gray Duck and passive-aggressiveness. She’s the 2013 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult Writing and the communications director for OCD Twin Cities, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation. TRUEST is her first novel. She writes about creativity and OCD at www.jackieleasommers.com.
A breathtaking debut brings us the unforgettable story of a small-town love, big dreams, and family drama.
Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand-new to town, Silas is different from the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening—and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister—and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.
Truest is a stunning, addictive debut. Romantic, fun, tender, and satisfying, it asks as many questions as it answers. Perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have).
Filed under: #MHYALit
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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