On Being Unchosen, a guest post by Katharyn Blair
I think I’m about four years old in the video. Maybe younger.
It’s a sunny day, and we’re sitting at our old house on Swain Street. My sister Hannah is playing in the yard, red-blonde pigtail catching the sunlight like a sparkler, and I’m sitting in the shade of the front doorway. The tape is grainy, the shot shaky as my mom balances the huge camera on her thin shoulder.
Zoom in, to a small girl in her favorite tie-die dress, telling a story.
Not just any story – she’s telling a scary story. Fingers curved into claws, eyes wide. Talking to no one, but what else is new.
Whatcha doin’, Kate-O? My mom’s voice is loud, and I look up and smile as Hannah screams off camera.
My mom always tells that story as the moment she knew I’d be a storyteller. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that little girl.
There wasn’t a moment when I stopped being her. That’s not how that kind of change happens. It’s a slow thing, I think. A gradual awareness.
I got a taste of it when I was in second grade. I went to a Christian school—we wore uniforms and said morning prayers. My dad was on the board of directors and many of the teachers went to my church. While I’d had my share of detention (there, detention was called “The Line,” and we had to stand on a small stretch of blacktop in the sun without moving), I’d never been in trouble trouble. That is, until I started telling stories. Vampire stories, to be exact. I didn’t think anything of it—I was just doing what I’d always done. But somehow, a teacher found out. They called my parents, and that’s the first time I heard that I was “inappropriate.” It would not be the last.
I’m the oldest of four girls, raised in a small fundamentalist church. I didn’t think anything of the fact that we weren’t allowed to speak in the assembly or say prayers in Sunday school. We could prepare the Lord’s supper but never pray to bless it or pass around the Bread and Cup. I didn’t like it, and it didn’t feel right. But I hadn’t figured out the words to form the questions.
In fourth grade, we made the move to public school because my younger sister needed an IEP and our Christian school couldn’t help. And where she went, so did I. It was a new beginning—a chance to be a little less weird. But I showed up with a hard lunchbox when everyone else had Arctic Zone sacks. I wore blue leggings, and the crotch always was mid-thigh by the end of the day. Some girl was mean to me, so I called her a jackass. She came into the classroom and told my teacher, who yelled at me and gave me detention. Public school felt like a swing and a miss.
I felt like I was a swing and miss everywhere.
Against the odds, I made some friends, slowly. But I was always aware that I was too much—too odd, too scary. I still loved vampire stories, still felt at home in the aisles of the library that were filled with worn R.L. Stine books. I just figured I would keep that part of me under wraps. I was enough of an outcast already, and that was all without letting someone into my head. My head, at that point, had become a really scary place.
My anxiety disorder bloomed into something hungry and unrelenting by the time I’d turned eleven, and when I had a panic attack in my sixth grade classroom and asked to step out, I was told to be quiet. When I insisted, on the verge of tears, the teacher dismissed me but informed me I was going to get a detention. After class, as the room emptied around me and I sat in the back, tears streaming down my face. The teacher kneeled down to look me in the eye. You know what you did wrong, right? She asked, and I didn’t look at her.
You were disruptive. You made a scene.
I tucked those words very deep in my chest, and I realized that in order to survive, I was going to have to stop being so… me. I was never going to naturally find a place where I fit, and I was never going to feel like I belong. The only way to make it through middle school—the only way to make it through life—was going to be to lay low.
For years, I laid low. I didn’t tell ghost stories, though I still read them and wrote them and loved them. I took whatever friends I could get, staying on the outer circle of the group, eating my lunch quietly and hoping no one would notice that I was there and ask why. Or who I was. Or why I was wearing an adult-sized raincoat to school every day in Southern California. (I didn’t know how to explain to my classmates that my OCD wouldn’t permit me to wear anything else.)
I wish I could tell you there was a definitive moment when I woke up. I wish I could tell you that I finally realized my worth, found a good balance of meds, slipped out of the raincoat, and started being my full, strange self. If I were writing my story, that’s exactly what would have happened (and it probably would have been at a school dance where I’d give a rousing speech and wind up being the most loved girl in room). But that didn’t happen—in fact, I didn’t finish middle school. I dropped out and did independent study, which basically meant I stayed home and watched Maury and Treasure Planet while waiting for my mom to come home from work at lunch so we could go to the McDonald’s drive-thru and get Salad Shakers. I saw my therapist once a week and my psychiatrist once every two weeks. My friends stopped calling, and I knew that even at my quietest, I’d still been too much.
Even now, tracing this story with my fingers and telling it back to myself, I can’t really tell you when I started waking up. I think, just like my quieting, it was a bunch of slow moments.
I graduated high school and went to college. I studied abroad and traveled the world. Lost my faith and found it again. I got married and went to grad school and started writing. For a long time, I didn’t worry about fitting in. I had an awesome husband and a dream job…everything else was off the radar.
I started hearing Charlotte’s voice in 2018. The plot of Unchosen had been floating around my head for some time, and it got louder as I tried to balance being a mother and a writer. As I got tattoos and dyed my hair purple and pushed back against the teachings of my church. As I dealt with the dozens of opinions of family and friends and strangers regarding my choice to work and be a mother. As I looked at my daughter as she sat on the porch of our house, whispering tales to no one, just like I did. As I wondered if she’d have to carve out her own space just to survive, like I had.
And I realized, as I look at the life I’m living now—the life I love—that carving out your own space is not always a bad thing. Being unchosen isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, being unchosen taught me how to live.
Meet the author
Katharyn Blair is a novelist and screenwriter. She has her MFA in screenwriting and her MA in literature. She’s been a social media coordinator for several films at 20th Century Fox, an intern at her city’s Parks and Recreation Department, a gymnastics coach, and, most recently, a writing professor at Azusa Pacific University. UNCHOSEN is her second novel for young adults. Her debut novel, The Beckoning Shadow received two starred trade reviews and was the book of the month for Book Box Club, Shelf Love Crate, and Beacon Box.
Read an Excerpt From Unchosen, a New YA Fantasy From Katharyn Blair | Tor.com
Katharyn Blair author web site
@KatharynBlairAuthor on Facebook
Katharyn Blair crafts a fiercely feminist fantasy with a horrifying curse, swoon-worthy sea captains, and the power of one girl to choose her own fate in this contemporary standalone adventure that’s perfect for fans of The Fifth Waveand Seafire, and for anyone who has ever felt unchosen.
For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice.
The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love—with her older sister.
The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.
Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One—who, legend has it, can end the curse.
When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.
The word spreads across the seven seas—the Chosen One has been found.
But when Dean’s life is threatened and a resistance looms on the horizon, the lie keeping Charlotte alive begins to unravel. She’ll have to break free, forge new bonds, and choose her own destiny if she has any hope of saving her sisters, her love, and maybe even the world.
Because sometimes the end is just a new beginning.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/26/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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