How to Be Okay When Life Feels Monolithic, a guest post by Jess Rinker
-constituting a massive undifferentiated and often rigid whole
-exhibiting or characterized by often rigidly fixed uniformity
Sometimes life is just too big.
This is a truth you can count on: Life gives us more questions than answers. So many events have shaped me, both on a global scale and in my own small life. Sometimes I’ve folded like warm, well-worked clay, and sometimes I’ve resisted, like a hot coal that just. won’t. go. out. From 9/11 to an apartment fire to a pandemic to my husband’s stage four cancer diagnosis to war, war, war and in between, so much more. And this goes without mentioning childhood traumas. It all sometimes seems too big for us adults, and I began imagining what it’s like for kids to wrestle with so many unanswerable issues. And that’s how Monolith came to be.
In 2020, we were thrown into a global state of questioning. We wanted answers and we wanted them fast. I’ve heard from teachers that the “pandemic kids” are like nothing they’ve ever experienced. My own kids were in high school and college at the time, and we could have adult conversations about what was going on in the world during those tumultuous years, but for younger children there is a kind of forced acceptance because they have so little control over their own lives. Difficult times are not over, but slowly we are changing and slowly, I hope, people are learning to accept that sometimes we don’t get the answers we want the second we want them. Sometimes we simply don’t get answers. And, yet, we can still be okay. We can still work toward a common good, and still move forward. Even if sometimes it feels like we’re only moving a centimeter at a time. If we give up, or sink into a cycle of conspiracy, or bulldoze those who don’t agree, we go nowhere. I wrote this book in 2020, but the core of it still hits me hard today.
In Monolith, August cannot accept that his younger brother River may be gone forever. When River goes missing, August finds a monolith in the cornfield behind their house and he convinces himself that aliens are involved with both circumstances. August is a smart kid. He’s in the robotics club at school and saving money to go to Space Camp next year. And yet, he falls into a bit of a rabbit hole of irrational thoughts. As the story unfolds, some of his theories turn out true, some false, and some are never proven either way. Some minor situations are left to the reader to decide for themselves what may have happened.
I have always loved how mystery, art, and science come together similarly and I wanted to write a story that wrestled with that “triumvirate” of humanity. I am not a religious person but I think these three pillars contain enough spirituality to keep me seeking and writing and making meaning out of this life forever. I don’t know why bad things happen. Sometimes there is no why. A person can say it’s coincidence, serendipity, God’s will, and that everything happens for a reason. But if that latter platitude is real, in my mind it’s only because that reason is cause and effect. And yet, I will watch, and appreciate with wonder, a bumblebee gathering nectar on his impossibly sized body. I’ll listen to the treefrogs chirp a symphony of love and marvel at how a firefly will always make his way to the tippity-top of my finger tip before taking flight. Like August, I will always lift my face to the stars and dream.
Science. Mystery. Art. Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
That is what’s at the heart of Monolith and what I try to embrace daily. I hope young readers will find wonder in this story and take away the combination of accepting uncertainty and always asking more questions. Because I truly believe that is what makes us a resilient, creative people. And that’s what makes it possible to move forward with or without answers.
MEET JESS RINKER
Jess Rinker is an award winning writer who has several books for young readers including picture book biographies and middle grade fiction. Titles include Gloria Takes a Stand, a biography of feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Send a Girl!: The True Story of How Women Joined the FDNY. Middle grade novels The Dare Sisters and The Dare Sisters: Shipwrecked!, Out of Time: Lost on the Titanic, The Hike to Home and the forthcoming MONOLITH, a Wandering Moth Press endeavor.
Jess has a BA in Social Welfare and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She also teaches in the University of Reno, Nevada at Lake Tahoe’s MFA program in the Writing for Children and Young Adults track, and undergrad creative writing at Centenary University in New Jersey. Most recently Jess won the Katherine Paterson Prize for The Girl in the Window and was awarded the Excellence in Teaching and Learning award for quality online course creation and teaching.
In addition to writing for children, Jess’s creative nonfiction has been featured in Feminine Collective, Creative Parents, Family Circle Magazine, PA Theatre Guide, Hunger Mountain, and other online publications including this recent guest blog on the Cancer Hope Network website chronicling her experience as a caregiver while living in a rural area. You can also find more of her personal work on Substack.
She currently lives in a small river town in New Jersey with her husband, Joe McGee, who is also a children’s author.
When life feels too big to understand, where do you search for answers?
When August Beck is out looking for his missing brother River, the last thing he expects to find is a monolith standing in the cornfield! August is certain the monolith and River’s disappearance are connected and that aliens are to blame. But his best friend Tilly Wilson isn’t so sure.
Tilly is an expert researcher. She has to be in order to run her own community newspaper. Tilly is always chasing down a good story, like her curious neighbor Mr. Starr, who makes art out of trash, but she isn’t convinced August’s theory is true. She’s afraid he’s a little too obsessed with aliens and avoiding the hard truth that little River might be gone forever.
Together they search for answers and they don’t always like the explanations. Tilly learns sometimes it’s better to let a story go, and August learns sometimes embracing the unknown yields surprising results. But between the monolith, changes within their own families, and a mysterious voice in the cornfield, both friends have an astonishing summer, one that teaches them to embrace mystery and never stop asking questions.
196 pages, Hardcover
Expected publication March 12, 2024 (from Goodreads)
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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