The Power of Writing an UnRevolutionary Book, a guest post by Kalena Miller
When I was eight, I was obsessed with kidnapping. Who knows what triggered this fixation—perhaps an episode of Law and Order I wasn’t supposed to watch, perhaps a classmate telling an outrageous story. Regardless of its origins, a fear of being snatched from my home by mysterious, faceless bad guys dominated my thoughts.
When I was twelve, I was obsessed with sleeping. Specifically, I was terrified of not being able to sleep at night. In my adolescent brain, this was the worst possible fate I could imagine: tossing and turning until the sun came up, my brain ruminating on the fact that I couldn’t sleep. I had no evidence or rationale for this fixation—I’ve always been a decent sleeper—but this fear took over my life.
My sophomore year of college, I became randomly and irrationally afraid of my roommate. She was objectively a lovely human being and friend, but something about her terrified me—whether she hated me, whether she judged me, whether she was plotting to ruin my life. I spent most of my waking hours devising plans to leave our shared dorm room and avoid her in the dining hall.
My senior year of college, I became obsessed with death. I wasn’t suicidal. Rather, I was singularly focused on the unknowable nature of death. (It didn’t help that I was working on my senior thesis about the Columbine shooting at the time.) I spent hours on the internet, reading about near-death experiences. I researched different world religions and their theories of the afterlife. I would leave class for ten minutes at a time to sob in the bathroom. I spent all of my free time in bed. This time, the worry became so debilitating that I saw a counselor on campus. She listened to my fears, my worries, and the numerous obsessions that had plagued me throughout my life and gently suggested that I might have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
It was the cliché lightbulb moment. Because of course I had OCD. I was a textbook case of the condition. I washed my hands frequently and repeatedly. I applied chapstick so many times that I developed sores around my mouth. I lost hours of sleep from checking the locks on doors. All those personality traits I had taken to be innocent quirks were actually indicative of a larger issue that was dramatically impeding my ability to function.
While it was liberating to possess this new information and understand my psyche in a revealing way, it was also unbelievably frustrating. I consider myself an intelligent, self-aware person. My parents are both doctors (the PhD kind, not the medical kind, but still). I read books and watched movies and attended a top liberal arts school. Yet, I somehow missed the fact that I was suffering from a mental illness that affected more than one percent of the population. Why didn’t I know sooner?
When I began my career as an author, writing a children’s book about a kid dealing with OCD was a no-brainer. Writing from experience is always a powerful place to begin the creative process (also, you know, less research). However, I found myself particularly compelled to write a story like Shannon in the Spotlight because it was precisely the story I had missed as a child. While I was a voracious reader across all genres and age categories, I never encountered a protagonist—or even a poorly stereotyped secondary character—with OCD. Had I seen myself on the page, odds are that I would have gotten help much sooner. Thinking back, it pains me to realize of how much my quality of life would have improved had I seen someone like me in a book, on television, in a movie—anywhere in the media—sooner.
Fortunately for the young readers of the world, I was not the first person to break this barrier. By the time I was entering the world children’s literature as a writer, there were numerous books for kids about OCD. The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, OCDaniel by Wesley King, The Miscalculations of Lightening Girl by Stacy McAnulty, and so, so many more. And that doesn’t include the picture books, early readers, and young adult novels on the subject.
It’s difficult to explain the joy and privilege that accompanies being so unrevolutionary. The fact that kids today have so many books to choose about OCD is a miracle, and it’s not something everyone experiences. I recently read a trade review that acknowledged X book wasn’t great, but it was the only representation of a certain condition that existed in children’s literature today, so it would have to do. That majorly sucks, to put it eloquently. Kids of all backgrounds, life experiences, and disabilities deserve to see characters who reflect their own identities, and they deserve a plethora of books to choose from. (Trust me, not all the books I’ve encountered about OCD are good representations. But at least readers have some choice when they go to the shelves.)
Shannon in the Spotlight is a middle grade book about OCD. It’s a love letter to all the kids out there whose brains work like mine. But it’s also a book about community theater, middle school friendship, cranky grandmothers, first crushes, and Scrabble. It’s remarkably unrevolutionary in the genre of OCD representation, for which I am immensely grateful. Still, I think you might like it.
Meet the author
Kalena Miller is an author of books for kids and teens. She graduated from Carleton College before receiving her MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband and lovable, if slightly neurotic, dog. For more information, visit Kalena at https://www.kalenamiller.com/.
About Shannon in the Spotlight
After Shannon accidentally lands a lead role in the summer musical, she realizes she has bigger things to worry about than stage fright in this contemporary middle-school novel about strained friendships, the positive power of theater, and the realities of being a tween with OCD.
Shannon Carter never considered herself much of a theater person. Not like her two BFFs, Elise, an actress, and Fatima, a techie. Shannon’s always been content to stay backstage, helping wherever she can. But when the director of the summer musical hears Shannon singing, he encourages her to step out of the wings and into the spotlight.
At first, Shannon is hesitant. As a twelve-year-old with obsessive-compulsive disorder, she depends on routine. But when she braves the audition, she discovers that center stage is the one place where she doesn’t feel anxious. She lands a lead role, and everyone in her life is ecstatic . . . except Elise.
To make matters worse, Shannon’s eccentric and opinionated grandmother moves in with her and her mom after a fluke house fire. As opening night approaches, Shannon feels pressure to save her friendship with Elise, to make Mom and Grandma Ruby act like grown-ups, and to follow the old theater adage The show must go on.
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 04/25/2023
Age Range: 10 – 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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