There’s No Right Way to Do Grief, a guest post by Shideh Etaat
We live in a society that often tries to rush us through grief — it’s hard to sit in the uncomfortable messiness of loss especially when there’s no one size fits all road map of how to truly process. Rana Joon and the One and Only Now, my debut YA novel, is about an Iranian-American teen growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 90’s. She also happens to be a lesbian but isn’t quite out yet and almost a year later she’s also still processing the sudden death of her best friend. This story was never meant to be about grief, but sometimes life has different plans in store for us than what we can imagine.
I started writing this book in 2015. I wanted to write about a time and place that felt incredibly familiar to me, but develop a character who wasn’t actually me, although there would inevitably be pieces of me within her. As an Iranian-American whose parents had to escape during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and were never able to go back, writing has always been my way of connecting back to my culture and examining all the nuances of our personal and collective traumas. This was a story about a girl struggling to be her true self within a culture and family that she felt could never truly accept her.
But two years later my world was flipped upside down. My husband was in a horrible accident and sustained a severe traumatic injury all while I was three months pregnant. Everything changed in a moment and as I worked tirelessly to help him come back to life through intensive rehabilitation and grow an actual human baby, the desire to write anything disappeared. The thought of writing fiction, and even reading it felt so absurd to me and it was an incredibly sad moment to think the thing I loved doing the most suddenly didn’t matter anymore.
But like I said, sometimes life has different plans in store for us than what we can imagine. After my son was born Rana came knocking — it was a gentle nudge, an invitation really, that we could go on this journey together and it could actually be fun. Her voice has always been so strong and in this case it was no different — writing her story helped me navigate the depths of my own grief, brought me back to myself, and ultimately gave me a sense of purpose I desperately needed. I was traveling through the deep messiness of tragedy, but I was also incredibly focused and productive. Writing this book reminded me of what it felt like to be alive.
And so naturally her story became about grief too. Almost a year before the novel takes place, Louie, her best friend, dies in a car accident. Rana is hung up on the details because Louie was such a careful driver and the cops say he was speeding on a windy road. She’s quit the basketball team even though it was something that brought her so much joy, because she doesn’t believe she deserves to do the things she loves now that Louie’s no longer here. She’s entangled sexually with his twin brother too even though she really likes girls, and to top it all off she doesn’t feel like her family understands or acknowledges the enormity of her grief. There’s a pressure Rana feels, and perhaps anyone who’s experienced a loss can relate, that she should be over it by now. A year later feels like a circle completing and she’s frustrated that she still feels so sad.
Through Rana I wanted to show people that grief is never linear, and that everyone processes it in their own way, on their own timeline, as they should have the freedom to do so. Grief has so many complicated layers and more than that it’s a spiral that drives you deeper and deeper into yourself, but is also kind enough to give you stretches of time to come up for air. I look back on the last six years and can see that while I was grieving there were also times when I was taking trips to Hawaii, selling my first novel, enjoying the immense beauty of a walk by the ocean with my son because guess what? Grief always happens alongside life, one can’t exist without the other and the more we try to push our pain away, or pretend like losing something or someone doesn’t hurt like hell, the less opportunities we have to feel connected to the beauty and joy that is also quintessentially life.
In this book Rana’s grief becomes a catalyst for her own transformation, and like reality, her experience constantly fluctuates. One day she’s afraid that her memories with Louie will slowly disappear, and the next day she’s working up the courage to enter a rap battle in his honor even though she’s terrified of public speaking. Like my own journey of writing this book, and perhaps anyone’s voyage through the murky waters of grief, Rana too must ultimately decide if she wants to stay paralyzed in her pain, or to birth something beautiful from it.
Meet the author
Shideh Etaat is an Iranian-American writer living in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work has been published in Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian Americans, Day One, Foglifter, Nowruz Journal, and My Shadow Is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora. Rana Joon and the One and Only Now is her first book. When she isn’t busy writing you can find her helping her five-year-old son navigate life.
About Rana Joon and the One and Only Now
This lyrical coming-of-age novel for fans of Darius the Great Is Not Okay and On the Come Up, set in southern California in 1996, follows a teen who wants to honor her deceased friend’s legacy by entering a rap contest.
Perfect Iranian girls are straight A students, always polite, and grow up to marry respectable Iranian boys. But it’s the San Fernando Valley in 1996, and Rana Joon is far from perfect—she smokes weed and loves Tupac, and she has a secret: she likes girls.
As if that weren’t enough, her best friend, Louie—the one who knew her secret and encouraged her to live in the moment—died almost a year ago, and she’s still having trouble processing her grief. To honor him, Rana enters the rap battle he dreamed of competing in, even though she’s terrified of public speaking.
But the clock is ticking. With the battle getting closer every day, she can’t decide whether to use one of Louie’s pieces or her own poetry, her family is coming apart, and she might even be falling in love. To get herself to the stage and fulfill her promise before her senior year ends, Rana will have to learn to speak her truth and live in the one and only now.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Publication date: 07/25/2023
Age Range: 14 – 18 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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