A Book About Grief? Why Should I Read That?! a guest post by Linda Epstein
“So what’s your book about?” might be the hardest question for an author to answer. Well, this author, anyway. Me, that is. Besides being a writer, I’m also a literary agent, so I am adept at the art of the elevator pitch, and I do know how to succinctly sum up a story. Well, other people’s stories, anyway! When I’m in a casual conversation I automatically think folks want a short answer when they ask about my book. The problem is, chatting about my own work, I’m just not good at short answers. Should my reply just be a recounting of the major plot points and the ways the main character learns and grows? Maybe. Or should I talk about some of the themes that run through the story? Perhaps.
I guess I don’t think replying that way gets to the real question that I believe lies underneath the question, “So what’s your book about?” Because I think what people are really asking is, “What about this book will appeal to me?” and “Tell me why I should read it.”
I could start with major plot points. Let’s give that a go: My book, Repairing the World, is about a 12-year-old girl named Daisy whose best friend Ruby dies. The story follows Daisy through a year of grieving as she makes two new friends… But that’s not really what my story is about. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. That doesn’t get to the heart of the plot points and the main character’s growth.
Let’s try it again: Daisy, a 12-year-old girl, loses her best friend Ruby, who she depends upon to generate wonder and excitement. Daisy makes friends with a boy named Mo and a girl named Avery who help her through the grieving process. Daisy learns that by keeping her heart open she holds her own key to seeing magic in the world. That’s a little better, sounds like a basic elevator pitch. And I do think sharing about my book this way will appeal to some readers. It would be enough for some people.
But for me, it feels like a fairly generic description. I don’t feel I’ve spoken to what might appeal to a reader about the story, or even why they should read it. So bear with me. I might need to take the long way around the block to get to this.
Let’s take a slight detour and talk a bit about representation. As a reader I’m really drawn to books that––as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote–– provide mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors to readers. And as a writer I can’t help but lean into my own life to build a world generated from my own lived experience. Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m talking about representation though. Well, I told you it might be a long way around the block!
Well, first of all, I’m queer, and although I don’t think Repairing the World would be considered an LGBTQIA+ book, there is what I think of as casual queerness in it. That is, Daisy’s Aunt Toby, a very important adult figure in the story, is a lesbian. It’s just a fact of the story and Aunt Toby’s girlfriend is in some scenes. None of that is a big deal (nor should it be). And when Daisy and Ruby, and later Daisy and Avery, talk about who they like-like their conversations are unconstrained by gender. I casually included queerness in the world I built for my readers on purpose. Because that’s my lived experience.
For my entire life I’ve also dealt with anxiety and depression, so it was very important to me that my book normalize that maintaining mental health is an active pursuit for many people. One of my favorite characters is Mo, a boy who often quotes his therapist. Mo demonstrates compassion and understanding for what Daisy is going through, and attributes his understanding to things he’s learning in therapy. I imagine (I hope!) there will be kids who will exhale a bit when they read a book with a character who’s working stuff out in therapy. It’s not “the problem” of the book. It’s just… normal.
Also, I’m Jewish. Within Judaism there are different denominations, and most people know about Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. But I follow a smaller branch called Reconstructionism, which comprises only about 4% of American Jews. The Reconstructionist movement sees Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization rather than just a religion. And, although finding middle grade and young adult books with Jewish representation is getting a bit easier, it’s still not commonplace. I haven’t come across a Jewish character in a middle grade novel that was specifically Reconstructionist, that I can think of. Now, although my story contains a lot of Jewish elements, it isn’t a story about being Jewish (or being Reconstructionist). But how Daisy navigates her grief is firmly rooted in her Jewish culture and religion. And her culture and religion are my culture and religion. That specificity matters to me.
It’s my hope that Repairing the World, a book ostensibly about grief and healing, will also be a place for Jewish kids (Reconstructionist or not) to see themselves in a story. I want to illustrate how normal it is for kids to have help managing their mental health. And, that grownups and kids can be queer or questioning and it’s just part of life. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.
So, when somebody asks me what my book is about, I try to sneak in all of these things. Plus, I let them know that the story has a home birth in it, and divorce, and a parent who’s dealing with cancer. These are small things, yet they might provide an avenue of access for a reader. Whether it’s a central theme, representation, or a nod to new ideas, I know that sometimes a dash of specificity can invite a reader into a story. Sharing about some of the details lets readers know that this book might be a place where they can see themself or their family, or learn something about other people and families.
Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to give a short answer. Apparently, I’m better at taking the long way around the block and having a little conversation. I believe mentioning these details addresses the questions readers are really asking, “What about this book will appeal to me?” or “Tell me why I should read it.” And of course, I also mention that there might be a fairy in the woods near Daisy’s house. A book like mine, that hints at real magic in our world, is the kind of story many readers want. This reader, too! I have looked for the magic in stories since I first learned to read.
Meet the author
Linda Epstein is the author of the middle grade novel, Repairing the World (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2022) and the adult poetry book re: She is also a senior agent at Emerald City Literary Agency. She writes fiction for children, teens, and adults, and poetry for adults. Linda has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from The New School. She makes her home in Woodstock, New York, in the mountains of the Hudson Valley.
Author website: https://lindaepsteinauthor.com
Copies of re: a small collection of poems https://artmobile.com/products/re
Signed copies of Repairing the World: https://goldennotebook.indielite.org/book/9781534498556
About Repairing the World
A young girl grapples with her grief over a tragic loss with the help of a new perspective from Hebrew school and supportive new friends in this heartfelt middle grade novel about learning to look forward.
Twelve-year-old Daisy and Ruby are totally inseparable. They’ve grown up together, and Daisy has always counted on having Ruby there to pave the way, encourage her to try new things, and to see the magic in the world. Then Ruby is killed in a tragic accident while on vacation, and Daisy’s life is shattered.
Now Daisy finds herself having to face the big things in her life—like starting middle school and becoming a big sister—without her best friend. It’s hard when you feel sad all the time. But thanks to new friends, new insights, and supportive family members, Daisy is able to see what life after Ruby can look like. And as she reaches beyond that to help repair the world around her, she is reminded that friendship is eternal, and that magic can be found in the presence of anyone who chooses to embrace it.
Publication date: 07/05/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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