Monday, January 18, 2016

Other Broken Things

Fifteen months ago, I was one of something like three dozen authors featured at Anderson Bookshop's enormous YA Literacy event. It was amazing--if you're a teacher or librarian, you should absolutely go--but even better, I came out of that weekend with a bunch of new writer acquaintances and two new friends.

One of those friends is Christa Desir. I love her. I just loved her from the start. Our very first conversation went from Thomas Jefferson to racism in current society to the portray of interracial relationships in fiction to our favorite bodice-rippers. Then I think we talked about cute shoes. Later, childhood trauma, her work in rape advocacy, PTSD, the work she does with incarcerated youth in Chicago, the girls I knew at the Janie Hammitt home, her children, my children, how much middle school sucks for everyone, and that her youngest child goes by the name Butter.

Just last week I learned that Christa has a photograph displayed in her kitchen of her face superimposed on Wonder Woman's body. And here I thought I was the only one. And Christa said that the main difference between her and me was that she cussed more. I don't think that's true. I just don't cuss in my writing, because nobody puts up with f-bombs in books meant for fifth-graders. When you're writing for high school you can get away with that shit.

Christa is one of the very few people in the world that I felt I could trust immediately with my whole self. So when her new book, Other Broken Things, came out, I was both eager and nervous. It would suck to hate Christa's book. I would never love her less, but I would feel horrible.

No worries. I tore though that sucker. I love it whole. From the opening line, "I'd cut a bitch for a cigarette right now," to the end, "I guess I'll keep coming back." It's about a 17-year-old recovering alcoholic named Natalie, fresh from rehab and trying to figure out what her life can be like sober. It's gritty and tough and honest--much like Christa. The funniest part for me is the acknowledgements in the end, when Christa thanked the beta-reader who suggested Natalie should have a hobby, like horseback riding. Yeah. Christa picked boxing. I'm a little surprised she didn't go with roller derby, which is Christa's actual hobby, but boxing was the bomb. Horses wouldn't have worked in this one.

Here's my very favorite part. Natalie's parents aren't easy, and she's complaining about her father to a friend she meets at AA meetings: "Does that mean that I should just stand on the sidelines watching as he continues to treat my mom like shit? As he continues to get mad that I'm not everything he wants me to be."

The friend replies, "No. You should tell them, tell them both, how you feel. Because that's your truth. Because you're allowed to make your own choices. But you shouldn't expect them to change or suddenly support you. The choice is theirs to make alone. You're not the hall monitor for better behavior in parents. It doesn't work that way. Their system of dysfunction has been working for them for a long time, I'm guessing. You can choose not to be party to it, but you can't pull the whole system out from under them if they want to hold onto it. Let go of the resentment. Be honest with them. Be honest with yourself. But this can't belong to you anymore."

And a bit farther down, my favorite line: "Everyone needs someone to care about their stories."

I care about this story. Well done, my sister and friend.