Posts Tagged: young adult
It was award-winning author Patty McCormick (of Sold, Never Fall Down and several other acclaimed novels) who told me one day that I had to read a manuscript, Little Peach, from a gifted student of hers, Peggy Kern. Who would ever ignore that advice? I started reading the novel that night–and didn’t stop until I was finished.
From the very first page I knew I wanted to publish this novel. The voice of Michelle-—so innocent and yet so wise beyond her years—gave me chills. When Michelle’s mother chooses her boyfriend over her own daughter, Michelle knows she has no choice but to leave and she runs away to New York City, naively thinking she can look up a friend once she gets there. But once she is arrives in Port Authority she understands just how alone she is. Then she sees a face in the crowd — a young man. He is handsome, well-dressed. He is smiling at her warmly. In this intimidating, bustling city, he offers her a hand. And she takes it.
Devon, that handsome young man, isn’t what he seems. He gives Michelle food, clean clothes, and a place to stay. A pimp who is well-practiced in the art of manipulation, he is slowly grooming Michelle to become one of his prostitutes. Even after he has drugged her and betrayed her in the worst way possible, Michelle doesn’t leave. First, because she has nowhere to go. And then because this man, who has taken everything from her, is also the only one who is offering her security.
When Michelle is forced into unspeakable acts, her voice feels almost distant — it’s as if she is living outside of her body. To protect herself, her mind still goes back to that innocence and safety she felt with her grandfather as a girl. Her new reality would be too much to process if she faced it head-on.
My favorite kinds of books are those that make you see something in a whole new light. What this book revealed to me was how far someone will go to feel loved if they have been denied this basic human need. And that is how Peach feels about the other girls in Devon’s home — her “sisters” Kat and Baby. Even though at night they are forced to do unimaginable things, there are those moments when they are laughing and watching TV together, doing each other’s hair and just being regular girls. It’s because of her love for this new family that Michelle is finally able to find the courage to fight back.
Peggy Kern was driven to write this story for the real teen prostitutes in New York City who had stories just like Michelle’s. She interviewed them and the police officers who work in the area. She saw the dingy hotel where they worked. When people ask Peggy why these girls would ever open up to her, she says that they were eager to tell their story. And no one ever cares enough to ask.
As Peggy so eloquently says in her author’s note for Little Peach, as a community we don’t have a place for these girls, who are often runaways with no options. So once they are arrested, they are treated as criminals instead of given the help and education that could reverse the deadly path they are on.
A question we often hear in the industry is why teen books have to be so dark. Why do they have to talk about such serious and dangerous issues? What if they lead teens to those dangerous behavior? What if teens are exposed to content that isn’t appropriate for them?
There will stop being dark books for teens when these issues are no longer relevant to teens. When bad things stop happening. And sadly, that is never going to be the case. Books like Little Peach educate people and open their eyes. They take an anonymous issue and make it personal. They teach teens compassion. I have seen books work their magic. It can feel uncomfortable to face these ugly issues as a society, but it’s only by facing them that we can start to make a change.
Alessandra Balzer is the Editor of Little Peach and the Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Happy 2015 to you! To start the year off right, we’d like to introduce our New Voices picks for Winter 2015. These debut novels entertained us, enriched us, intrigued us, and made us so excited to witness the beginnings of these authors’ sure-to-be-stellar writing careers.
Click on the links below to read the first chapter of each title, and make sure to keep an eye on these fantastic authors. We can’t wait to see what they do next!
BLACKBIRD FLY, by Erin Entrada Kelly, follows twelve-year-old Apple Yengko as she grapples with being different, with friends and backstabbers, and with following her dreams. Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to America from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods, makes mistakes with her English, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” But it becomes unbearable in eighth grade, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is. Read the first chapter here!
THE KEEPERS: THE BOX AND THE DRAGONFLY, by Ted Sanders, is the first in a four-book middle-grade fantasy series about Horace F. Andrews, a quiet boy who discovers he possesses a power that can change worlds. When a sign leads Horace underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse full of mysterious objects, he unfortunately finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it? From the enormous, sinister man shadowing him to the gradual mastery of his new-found abilities to his encounters with Chloe—a girl who has an astonishing talent of her own—Horace follows a path that puts the pair in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between two warring factions in which every decision they make could have disastrous consequences. Read the first chapter here!
NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES, by Bryan Bliss, is a thoughtful and moving story about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love. Abigail’s parents never should have made that first donation to that end-of-times preacher. Or the next, or the next. They shouldn’t have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there for the “end of the world.” Because now they’re living in their van. And Aaron is full of anger, disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But is that too big a task for one teenage girl? Read the first chapter here!
RED QUEEN, by Victoria Aveyard, is a sweeping fantasy about seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose latent magical powers draw her into the dangerous world of the elite ruling class. Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with Red blood serve the Silver elite, whose silver blood gifts them with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the King, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the King forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything to use her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal. Read the first chapter here!
LITTLE PEACH, by Peggy Kern, is the gritty and riveting story of a runaway who comes to New York City and is lured into prostitution by a manipulative pimp. When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: She is alone and out of options. Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels. But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution. It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition. This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive. Read the first chapter here.
SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, by Becky Albertalli, is an incredibly funny and poignant twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming-out story—wrapped in a geek romance. Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: If he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing with, will be jeopardized. With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. Read the first chapter here!
Alexandra Duncan’s debut novel Salvage has taken the world by storm. As Stephanie Perkins (author of Anna and the French Kiss) says, this book is “kick-ass, brilliant, feminist science fiction.” And boy is she right.
Her life is a shadow of a life. Her future is not her own to fashion.
Her family is a tangle of secrets. She cannot read. She cannot write.
But she is Parastrata Ava, the Captain’s eldest daughter, the so girl of a long-range crewe—her obligations are grave and many.
And when she makes a mistake, in a fragrant orchard of lemons, the consequences are deadly.
There are some who would say, there but for the Mercies go I.
There are some who would say Parastrata Ava is just a silly earthstruck girl who got what was coming to her.
But they don’t know the half of it.
We were lucky to have debut author Alexandra Duncan swing by The Pageturn and talk to us about writing, reading, and how Salvage came about!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
It’s so hard to pick one favorite book. I think I had a new one every week when I was growing up. (Come to think of it, that’s probably still true.) One of the ones that really stuck with me and that I still have on my bookshelf at home is The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson. I loved post-apocalyptic survival stories, especially ones where all of the adults were dead or otherwise incapacitated, which is exactly what happens in The Girl Who Owned a City.
Right now I’m reading A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, the most recent book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I have to stay ahead of the HBO show!
What is your secret talent?
I make a mean apple pie, crust and all. I have a 96% success rate. I’ve only ever caught one pie on fire, and that wasn’t entirely my fault.
Fill in the blank: _______ always makes me laugh.
My husband. I might be biased, but I think he’s pretty hilarious.
My current obsessions are…
Podcasts. I can listen to them while I’m doing chores or exercising. (Yay, multitasking!) Right now, my favorites are a podcast about pseudoscience and religion called Oh No, Ross and Carrie! and Welcome to Nightvale, which is kind of hard to explain. Just imagine what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft and David Lynch created a town and that town had a public radio station.
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Support each other. Writing looks like a solitary occupation, but I don’t know a single author who has succeeded without moral support and advice from friends. Celebrate each other’s victories and cheer each other up when you hit one of writing’s inevitable stumbling blocks. You’ll all go farther and be happier for it in the end.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
Sees the world in a new way. One of my favorite things about science fiction and fantasy is that they can be used to re-frame today’s problems and let people see them from an entirely different angle.
How did you come to write this book?
Salvage started life with a short story I wrote called “Bad Matter,” which was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2009. It took place among the merchant crewes that appear in Salvage. When I finished the short story, I knew I wanted to explore their culture further and tell more stories set in that world.
Salvage was a very personal book for me. A lot of the inspiration for the crewes’ culture came from growing up as the stepdaughter of a minister in a small town church in rural North Carolina. It was a very tight-knit and insular environment where there were very strict expectations about behavior, especially for women and girls. It was very much like growing up inside a large extended family. I also drew inspiration from my travels to Haiti and Nicaragua as a teenager, and my time studying abroad in Spain during college. Those experiences shaped my version of a future Earth.
In some ways, Ava’s journey is similar to my own. I consider myself a feminist, but I wouldn’t have said so as a teenager. It wasn’t until I left home and struck out on my own at 18 that I began to understand my worth as a human being. I hope Salvage helps other girls learn the same thing about themselves. I hope it makes them feel like they aren’t alone.
Salvage is in stores now!
In He Said, She Said, I set out to tell a simple love story about Omar, a popular, but shallow boy, who literally tries to change the world to get the attentions of Harvard-bound Claudia, a talented girl who’s uninterested in him. (Okay, maybe that’s not so simple). During this writing journey, an assortment of books and quotes and poems I’ve loved began to creep up on me, begging to be included in the story. And they wouldn’t stop. So I let them in.
He Said She Said is most definitely a tale of teenage love. But it is also an ode to the power of Pablo Neruda, Pat Conroy, Marjory Wentworth—the poet laureate of South Carolina—Alice Walker, and all of the writers who shaped me. The writers who helped this callow-schoolboy-now-writer find his voice. It’s a testament to the transformative power of love and words, in helping us become better people.
You see, I grew up in a home where my father was a writer, professor, and book publisher, and my mother was a storyteller who taught English at the local college. We didn’t watch television. Correction: We couldn’t watch television. If we were lucky, we’d catch reruns of Lucy or westerns on Saturday, but only when my father was travelling. Our house was a Wal-Mart of books. And reading was our hobby. Our play date. And when we misbehaved, our punishment. While my friends entertained themselves with board and video games, my shelves were lined with Eric Carle, Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, and Lucille Clifton’s Everett Anderson’s books. I knew those books, word for word. This is what I know: In my home the words came alive. There were read-alouds before breakfast and reader’s theater after dinner. We were shown that there were whole new worlds present in each page. I have an appreciation for books, much like athletes who’ve played football since pee wee league, or musicians who’ve played piano since they could walk. Sure, I write because I can, because I love the way words can get together and dance. But, the most important reason I write is because I want others to fall in love with the power of words just like I did (even when I didn’t know it).
And find their own voice, just like Omar does in He Said, She Said.
Kwame Alexander has written fifteen books, owned several publishing companies, written for television (TLC’s Hip Hop Harry), recorded a CD, performed around the world, produced jazz and book festivals, hosted a weekly radio show, worked for the US government, and taught in a high school. Recently, Kwame was a visiting writer in Brazil and Africa. He resides in the Washington, DC, area, where he is the founding director of Book-in-a-Day (BID), a program that teaches and empowers teenagers to write and publish their own books.
There’s nothing like falling into the spell of a new voice, a striking view of reality, and into the life of a character you know you’ll never forget. Falling in love with a book is sometimes a thing that happens gradually over the course of a story, but sometimes the first words on a page signal that the feelings are going to come tumbling out of a book and straight into your heart. The very first words of Not a Drop to Drink have that spark for me: “Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond…”
The books I’ve always loved most are those that show me something that I’ve never even imagined and make it real, make me feel. And I love wild books – ones where characters, especially strong girls, have to work to squeeze a good life from a harsh world. I started young with those books, as in Laura Ingalls in the Little House books and Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins. I love books that challenge me, along with the characters, to rise above difficulty, limitations, and to become more than we knew we could be. And Lynn, the heroine of Not a Drop, is such a strong character. Not a doubt there. She’s strong in a way that is more than physical or emotional. She’s real. She’s a product of her circumstances, stubborn and rough, but she discovers her heart. And her story pushes every one of my “appeal” buttons: that strong and distinctive heroine, a gripping survival story, beautiful, sometimes poetic writing, a vivid setting in a fully-realized world, and plot twists like WOAH. Oh, and it has some good kissing.
One of the most interesting discussions I’ve had with Mindy and with my colleagues here at HarperCollins is about how to categorize this book – is it dystopian? Post-apocalyptic? But I’m kind of proud to say that it really defies genre. While Not a Drop has plenty to offer fans of hugely popular dystopian fiction, what I appreciate is that it’s more than that. It’s different and special because it’s not about challenging a world gone wrong, but it’s about challenging people to be stronger in their own lives and hearts. And when the trends have come and gone, I think Mindy’s book – Lynn’s story – will persist in grabbing readers’ hearts and imagination, the same way that the frontier or desert island books many of us loved as children and teenagers are still perennial favorites.
I’m so proud to have helped bring Mindy McGinnis and Not a Drop to Drink to an audience. Almost two years after I first read a draft, this book still makes my heart pound, my spine tingle, and my fingers itch to turn pages, and I hope all readers will feel the same when they get their hands on it.
Sarah Shumway is an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Imagine a world where water is the hottest commodity. Author Mindy McGinnis has done it in a thrilling, terrifying way in her debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink.
Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.
Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.
Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.
But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….
Of course, after reading this fantastic dystopian novel, we jumped at the chance of having Mindy come by and open the book with us!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
Choosing is so hard! I’ll say A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Right now I’m reading Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Tucholke.
What is your secret talent?
Um… I can flip a stack of quarters off my elbow and catch them in my palm. Also I have very fat thumb pads.
Fill in the blank: _______ always make me laugh.
My current obsessions are…
SHERLOCK, local history and the roots of criminal profiling.
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Do your homework. Half the battle is learning the industry.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
Didn’t steal it from the library.
How did you come to write this book?
I watched a documentary called Blue Gold, which is about a projected shortage of potable water on our planet due to overpopulation. It was a horrible thought – we all need water to survive, and it’s something we can’t make. I went to bed very grateful for the small pond in my backyard, and that night I dreamt I was teaching a young girl how to operate a rifle so that she could help me protect the pond. I woke up and thought, “Hey… I wrote a book in my head just now.”
I asked myself what this child would grow into, and my main character, Lynn, was the answer. I don’t plot at all, I simply write. With Drink I was very fortunate in that the book really wrote itself. It wanted to be told. Lynn’s transformation from isolationist to human being had to be slow and believable, but not at the expense of pacing. I knew I needed supporting characters that could make this an interesting read without lots of explosions and fight scenes. Stebbs walked in and saved me there!
Thanks, Mindy! You can find Not a Drop to Drink in stores now!
September Girls, by Bennett Madison, is creating quite a sensation in certain circles. Oh, THAT book, some of you will nod knowingly. The book that is causing so much controversy on the blogosphere, which is addressed wonderfully in this interview with Bennett.
Hopefully others will also nod knowingly but say yes, THAT book, that book that has received five starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, BCCB, and School Library Journal and glowing praise from authors E. Lockhart, Jenny Han, Sara Zarr, and Nova Ren Suma.
I happen to agree with Maureen Johnson, who praised Bennett as “one of the best YA writers around” for his last book The Blonde of the Joke. I’m biased, of course—I’m his editor. I’m also a woman, and I grew up with three brothers—two details about myself that speak to my belief that September Girls is actually quite feminist, and that it pretty accurately portrays teenage boys.
September Girls took Bennett longer to write than he expected. He said in this interview with The Rejectionist that his editor was skeptical of the idea. To be fair, I wasn’t skeptical of his ability to write an amazing book (even though I didn’t really know what it was about!). I had faith in him.
What I MIGHT have been skeptical of were the delivery dates he kept promising me, especially since he kept sending me drafts with notes like this along the way:
infinite caveats apply. there’s a lot of stuff i already know i want to work on, change, recast, etc etc etc. but i wanted to get you a draft, and this is a draft. i’m pretty sure it’s free of TK’s and sentences that trail off without an ending but i could be wrong about that.
THE POINT IS, there’s still a lot of work to do on this and I hope it’s complete enough at this stage that you’re able to see where it’s going and give me some thoughts on what is most important to handle. There will be another draft, so read it with that in mind I guess. Basically I can barely bring myself to send it but I could keep working on it forever so here goes nothing.
And my favorite:
I looked over your letter and I’m in total agreement with 90% of it.
I’m so proud of September Girls––it’s been called mesmerizing and lovely and haunting and surprising and intoxicating, and even though some readers clearly haven’t gotten it, I’m thrilled that the book is creating conversation, and inciting readers like Emily May to speak up and talk about it in such an eloquent, thoughtful manner. I hope you have a chance to read it, and that it works its magic on you.
Tara Weikum is the editor of September Girls by Bennett Madison.
It’s such fun to see our authors supporting other authors– what a generous and smart crew of talented folks writing books for children! An example: Ellen Oh, author of this winter’s fantasy YA-debut PROPHECY, interviews Soman Chainani, author of the just published middle grade debut, SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, on The Enchanted Inkpot today.
Both of these authors are the kind of accomplished, multi-talented people that make us feel a little inadequate (but in a good way, we swear!)– they’re total movers and shakers, and, you heard it here first, doing big things. Also, they both have terribly snazzy websites and gorgeous author photos!
A little bit more about each of their books…
PROPHECY, by Ellen Oh
She’s the demon slayer.
She’s the most feared girl in the whole Kingdom.
And now she’s on the run.
Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope…
Murdered kings, traitors, and a demon invasion sends Kira on the run with the young prince, who may be the true heir to the Dragon King’s throne, destined to reunite the seven kingdoms. But without the lost treasures, there will be nothing left to reunite. With only the guidance of a cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first in a three book series.
- Marie Lu, author of the LEGEND trilogy, raved of PROPHECY, “What an adventure! I fell in love with the lush, richly woven world of PROPHECY. Kira is truly a force to be reckoned with. When I finished my journey with her, all I wanted was more. Spectacular!”
- Watch the trailer for PROPHECY here.
THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, by Soman Chainani
The School for Good and Evil series unleashes a dazzling new fantasy world, one in which ordinary boys and girls are trained to be perfect heroes or perfect villains. Book One subverts the assumed roles of our indelible heroines, when witch-girl Agatha is “mistakenly” sent to the School for Good, and wannabe-princess Sophie to the School for Evil. As rivalries bloom and jealousy sets in, Agatha and Sophie discover that these fates may not be a mistake, after all…
- Gregory Maguire, author of WICKED, had this to say about THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL: “Invention in overdrive, indulging in a gnarly smackdown of folklore conventions, THE SCHOOL OF GOOD AND EVIL is a comedic education by a writer primed to shoot to the head of the class.”
- And Entertainment Weekly said this: “If I could bewitch you all to read it, I would.”
- Download the discussion guide here.
- And watch the AMAZING trailer here!
Fans of dark realistic fiction, this one’s for you . . . PRETTY GIRL 13, by Liz Coley, follows the story of a girl with multiple personalities who’s trying to piece together the mystery of her kidnapping and captivity. Liz Coley kindly offered to share with us some of the fascinating research and background information that went into writing a character with dissociative identity disorder.
From Liz Coley:
E Pluribus Unum: From Many, One
A Brief Introduction to Dissociative Identity Disorder
What is dissociation?
Most likely everyone has experienced the simplest level of dissociation, when part of your mind detaches and does its own thing, leaving no memory behind. You might drive for fifty miles without realizing the passage of scenery and time; daydream away an entire class; tune out all sounds in the room while you write an article about DID. Part of your mind is in touch with your environment on some level (you didn’t crash; there are some notes on your page; you responded automatically to a question from your boyfriend or girlfriend), but your thoughts are “elsewhere.” You don’t remember driving, writing, or speaking. That’s quite ordinary, but it gives a hint to the flexibility and mystery of our mental processing power.
What is identity?
Philosophers and psychologists can debate this question. I am neither, but I’ll suggest that at the simplest level, our identity is who we think we are; it is based on a stream of memories and consciousness that reboots every morning when we wake. My grandmother insisted she felt like exactly the same person on the inside as when she was a nine-year-old girl emigrating from Romania to the U.S. on a filthy ship with huge, black roaches; she was the same person who skipped school the day everyone’s hair was cut off to prevent lice. She was the same person who married three times, had one child, and worked as a bookkeeper in middle life. She was the same person who, in her sixties, crocheted ponchos, sewed pantsuits, and stitched together teddy bears for me. In her eighties, she disappeared down the rabbit hole of Alzheimer’s. Perhaps at that point, her sense of identity was lost to herself except in moments of lucidity, but we knew who she was because we had seen the continuity from the outside.
Imagine, though, holes and jumps in memory. Imagine feeling like you are a stranger in your own body. Imagine not knowing how you got here or why you own certain things. Imagine not having that sense of continuity of your own identity. Imagine waking up as a different person.
What exactly is dissociative identity disorder?
By the late 1970s, psychiatrists had recognized about one hundred cases of what was then called multiple personality disorder (MPD), a condition in which the patients demonstrated different identity states with some degree of mutual amnesia. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association formally recognized the condition, renamed dissociative identity disorder, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) among the personality disorders. The criteria for DID were (in layman’s terms): the presence in one person of two or more distinct identities that alternately take control of the person’s behavior, and an inability to remember events that cannot be accounted for by ordinary forgetfulness. Beyond that, the symptoms in the patient cannot be otherwise explained by substance abuse, a medical condition, or fantasy. (DSM-IV 300.14)
The number of diagnoses exploded through the 1980s, particularly in the United States, leading to controversy and debate over whether DID had been underreported or misdiagnosed in the past or whether it was a “fad” diagnosis projected by overenthusiastic therapists onto suggestible patients. Estimates of the prevalence range from one in ten thousand people in the general population to one in one hundred people in mental health treatment, but no firm numbers based on epidemiological studies are available. For a good recent discussion of the difficulty in counting cases, see “The Problem of Prevalence” by Karen Johnson.
Where does it come from?
DID is a human defense mechanism at the most basic level. It is widely believed to develop as a result of repeated childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect in some individuals who have the capacity to compartmentalize their experience. One aspect of the person’s mind and memory absorbs the traumatic abuse events and then switches off, leaving the dominant personality in a state of amnesia about the terrible times. Increasingly complex reactions to trauma can splinter the personality into multiple coping states for different situations. This is called the traumagenic explanation.
The controversial counter-explanation is that under hypnosis, patients generate false memories of abuse or portray themselves as having multiple personalities to conform to a therapist’s prompting or expectations. This is called the iatrogenic explanation.
In favor of the traumagenic explanation is physical evidence that doesn’t rely on self-reporting. Scientists have been working for several years using PET scans, EEGs, and fMRIs to study the brains of people with a diagnosis of DID compared to neurotypical controls. These studies have been able to capture changes in brain structure and also document physiological changes during alter-switching. The research is ongoing. A multinational, multicenter project headed by Dr. A.A.T. Simone Reinders now coordinates much of this research into the imaging and psychobiology of DID.
How do different personalities coexist?
A gatekeeper or librarian or master controller seems to be a common executive function to monitor the switching between the personalities sharing a single mind. Sometimes the identities take it upon themselves to step aside or step forward. Some identities may be mutually aware, even listening in on each other’s encounters, while others are isolated and unaware. Each one, however, considers him- or herself a person with a personality, autobiographical history, tastes, and what is called “agency,” that is, the ability to make choices and initiate actions. Chronological age, sexual identity, and handedness can differ among personalities, as can allergies, abilities, and states of health. These independent personalities are referred to as alters.
This condition may persist for years into adulthood without the patient being aware of what’s happening. The first notice may be long periods of amnesia, finding oneself in a strange place or wearing strange clothes, or being told of unremembered events and behaviors. DID is often associated with other issues, such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or PTSD, which may be the initial reason for an individual seeking counseling.
While a person may develop alters as a defense mechanism to preserve the ability to function, ultimately the sharing of waking life between personalities with different memories and goals can create chaos and despair. That’s why the goal of treatment is to deal with the compartmentalized traumatic memories, desensitize the emerging dominant personality to the emotional content of them, and allow/convince the personalities to reintegrate. As the alters have their own sense of survival, reintegration can be extremely slow, complex, and even incomplete. Some patients consider their treatment successful when they attain a stable way of living with more than a single personality still inhabiting their mind. The alters may switch or share control depending on the skills and temperament needed at a given time. Fully integrated individuals comment on how “quiet” it is inside themselves when the competing, conferring alters fuse and think as one.
How can I find out more?
The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation and the Sidran Institute offer much more detailed information, links to many resources, and lists of therapists who specialize in this area.
A CONFUSION OF PRINCES, Garth Nix’s first teen novel since ABHORSEN, came out earlier this year– did you read it? We did, and we were completely enthralled: it’s a sci-fi, action/adventure tale set in a totally fascinating world where thousands of mostly-immortal superhuman Princes compete to rise above the rest while operating within a dangerous, traitorous Empire. And you know, fighting epic battles in space. But above all, it’s a coming-of-age story that you’ll find complex and moving. And it received three starred reviews (SLJ, Horn Book, and Kirkus), to boot!
Today we are lucky enough to hear from the man himself, as Garth graciously agreed to be subjected to our shockingly rigorous line of questioning…
What time is your alarm clock set for?
As it is shared with my wife Anna, who is an early riser, the alarm usually goes off about 6:00am. But if I am honest, my actual rising time is around 8:00am and sometimes later, if I stayed up working and didn’t go to bed till 1:00 or 2:00, as is not unusual.
Favorite book from childhood?
I have many, many favourite books from childhood. How could I select just one? Today I will choose KNIGHT’S FEE by Rosemary Sutcliff, tomorrow I might choose THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper, the day after that TARAN WANDERER by Lloyd Alexander, or perhaps CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein, or DOWN WITH SKOOL by Ronald Searle, or LEAVE IT TO PSMITH by P. G. Wodehouse or THE GOLDEN GOBLET by Eloise Jarvis McGraw or UNCLE by J. P. Martin . . . there are too many wonderful books to choose from!
If you weren’t an author/illustrator, what job would you like to have?
I have had many different jobs, mostly in publishing. My favourite was being a literary agent, helping other authors get their work published, and that is probably what I would go back to being if I wasn’t being a full-time author.
How many stamps are in your passport?
I think I am on my fifth passport since I was 19. The current one has about twenty stamps in it. Sadly, some countries don’t stamp passports anymore, it is all stored electronically, so I don’t have as many in the current passport as I would once have collected. The best passport I had was in my late 20s, which had lots of weird and wonderful visas and entry/exit stamps from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading the fascinating non-fiction book THE TIME TRAVELLER’S GUIDE TO MEDIEVAL ENGLAND by Ian Mortimer.
Finish this sentence: “I always smile when…”
…I come home from a trip away and see my family.
Funniest (or most interesting) question from a fan?
I get lots of interesting questions, but one that really stumped me was someone at a book event who asked me: “Why 996 steps?” I had no idea what she was asking. She repeated the question. Eventually it turned into a very specific question about the number of steps down from the well in the Abhorsen’s House, in my book ABHORSEN and why that particular number. The answer being that I had no idea, it just seemed the right depth.