Finding Your Place by Author Caroline Gertler
It’s that time of year. The start of the school year. And for those who celebrate, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Fall is a time for fresh starts, for setting new goals.
Sometimes, those goals get wrapped up in the age-old question that adults ask children, and children ask of themselves and each other: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Underlying the question of “What do you want to do?” is the deeper question, “Who do you want to be?”
It’s hard enough to answer the question, “Who am I, now?”
Even us grown-ups—who seem to have it all figured out—are still learning and changing and discovering more about ourselves. You might have achieved a career-goal of being a librarian, a teacher, a writer. But I’ll bet there’s some area in which you are still figuring things out. Figuring out what and who and where you’ve got to be.
These big questions are the ones faced by my protagonist, Nolie, in Where You’ve Got to Be. Nolie feels overshadowed by her older sister, Linden, who has a starring role in a Lincoln Center performance of The Nutcracker. And Linden is turning away, more temperamental than ever, leaving Nolie behind. Nolie is the younger (and, to her mind, less interesting) sister. The one who doesn’t have any special passion or talent. On top of that, her best friend is determined to act cooler and older, and she wants Nolie to do the same.
The story, like life, doesn’t wrap up neatly. Nolie doesn’t figure it all out in the end; she doesn’t discover a passion or talent of her own. Instead, Nolie heads down a self-destructive path—including stealing small things and picking at her skin.
Like Nolie, I was a kid who felt overshadowed by older sisters. I yearned to know what my future would hold, who I would become. (I harbored the dream of becoming a writer, but that felt like a fantasy.)
The title for Where You’ve Got to Be was inspired by these lyrics for Simple Gifts, a 19th-century Shaker song I learned in elementary school:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be…
Now, I sing this to my daughters as a bedtime lullaby. It’s about knowing yourself, where you ought to be, in the place just right.
The song brings the concept of place to bear on the question of identity. Not just who you’re going to be, but where. Nolie, like me, is Jewish. Nolie’s strong connection with her father’s family and her grandmother play a big role in her identity and keeping her grounded. Nolie’s grandmother shares family history with her about immigrating to America, and the assimilation of European Jews to American life. One of the treasures in Grandma’s apartment that Nolie steals is an antique compass. A navigational compass is a device to aid in finding direction, which is exactly what Nolie’s looking for.
But it turns out that the device doesn’t help Nolie figure things out. Instead, it’s the act of things breaking, and coming back together again, that starts Nolie on the path to understanding: where she’s got to be, is right where she is.
Meet Caroline Gertler
Caroline Gertler is the author of the middle grade novels Many Points of Me and Where You’ve Got to Be. She lives in New York City with her family. You can find her on Twitter (@cmgertler), on Instagram (@carolinegertler), and through her website at carolinegertler.com.
This year everything was different.
Nolie didn’t expect sixth grade to change everything.
But lately her ballet-obsessed big sister is even more temperamental than usual and turns away from Nolie when she tries to ask what’s wrong. And her best friend, Jessa, seems determined to act older and cooler—and she wants Nolie to do the same. Even though Nolie has always been happy just the way she is.
Maybe all she needs is a little guidance. A little luck. Grandma won’t miss her antique compass, right? And how much would Jessa mind if she borrowed her lucky necklace?
Suddenly,Nolie is on a path she didn’t mean to go down, and she has real reasons to atone on Yom Kippur. Can she find her way back to where—and who—she wants to be?
Filed under: Guest Post
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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