Even if I don't "win" tonight, I still woke up feeling like it was my birthday. Yesterday, I went and talked with the most amazing group of 8th graders at Logan High School (which is where Fig should have gone) and left feeling better about teens reading my book. About anyone reading my book. I wrote a really hard book. I get that it is simply too much for some people. Mental illness IS difficult, but for whatever reason, I was called upon to give voice to the stories of those suffering from diseases like schizophrenia or disorders like OCD and skin-picking. I didn't necessarily "want" to do this. I felt compelled. I didn't have any other choice.
I want to be as honest about this as I can be.
The last year or so, since the book came out, has been incredibly hard. I've participated in a lot of events where I follow other writers who have written either fun, exciting, romantic, or more "acceptably" difficult books, just to drop a cloud of gloom on the room. I am still learning how to talk about my own book so I get that it's hard for others to talk about it too.
But when I see adults, my originally-intended audience tremble and shake (sometimes just at the thought of my book), I've been TERRIFIED of teens reading it. I feel more at home in the adult venues I've read at than most of the teen events, but then yesterday I actually got to talk to kids who'd read the book (which is different than trying to get kids to buy the book), and was floored. They argued about whether or not Sissy Baxter is a true friend to Fig (it was divided which is absolutely the right answer), and whether or not Fig develops or has devoloped the disease (something I won't ever answer). What was really fun to see was how eye-opening it was for them when I mentioned the fact Fig didn't have the opportunity to go to a school like the one where they are. How she might have been better off had she been able to. Then we talked about the circumstances Mama faces too. How the time period and setting of rural Kansas very well might have aggravated her symptoms and her demise.
At any rate, I still stand by the fact my book is a coming-of-age story for both teens and adults, but it was fascinating to actually see it received by these 8th graders. I'm not going to lie. When I did the YA reading hosted by the Colorado Book Award a month ago with the other nominees in my category, I left feeling gutted. I could feel the fear everyone felt for the book (and for me). It was palpable. It shook me to the core. But the 8th graders at Logan gave me the courage I needed for tonight's Colorado Book Award's ceremony (I was actually considering not going). They made me feel like Fig belongs there even if she also belongs in the hands of adult readers too. I just hope the kids at Logan re-read Fig when they're grown up the way I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. That's the true beauty of the coming-of-age tale. As a teen, you get this lesson, and as an adult, you get another one you didn't see before.