My new novel, “Every Single Second”, published this month. It deals with heavy-duty issues: gun violence, post traumatic stress, race and class divides, belief in God (or not). I was ready for lots of questions about this book! It’s funny that I never anticipated one of the most interesting things I’d be asked: why did you make this middle grade instead of young adult?
That question rests, I think, on the assumption that some issues are just too much for MG to handle. For sure, none of my earlier books went places as dark as this new one. For sure, while I was writing it, I sometimes wished I wasn’t. Those days, I took long, heavy-hearted walks, feeling like the girl I met on one of my school visits. When I described the book’s plot, she put her hands over her eyes.
Yet on that same school visit, and many times afterward, middle grade kids came up to me wanting to know how soon the book would be available. They helped me remember why I needed to tell this story. Ducking hard issues doesn’t make them go away. I’m pretty sure it helps them endure.
While I was writing, Tamir Rice, a twelve year old, was shot and killed by police here in Cleveland. His neighborhood is only a few miles from mine, but it might as well be another country. On paper, our city is wonderfully diverse and multi-cultural. In reality, we live in highly segregated communities. This is how things were fifty years ago, and, heart-breaking as it is to contemplate, how things still are (if anything, after the foreclosure crisis segregation is even worse here).
I don’t know how, or if, these walls will ever be knocked down. But I knew I could try to tell the story of kids living on opposite sides. No one is more passionate about what’s right and what’s wrong, about fairness and justice, than middle graders. In my book, the violence takes place off-stage. But what leads up to it, and its consequences, are (I hope) fully explored.
More and more middle grade books are taking on sensitive issues. Just look at some of the most recent titles. Donna Gephart’s “Lily and Dunkin” features a transgender girl and a bipolar boy. “All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook”, by Leslie Connor, is about incarceration. Melanie Conklin’s “Counting Thyme” is about cancer. Nora Raleigh Baskin’s “Nine Ten: A September 11 Story” and Jewell Parker Rhodes’s “Towers Falling” take on national tragedy. Kate Messner’s “The Seventh Wish” is about drug addiction.
Middle grade kids dealing with these things in their own lives will find themselves on the pages of these stories. They’ll know they’re not alone. Their problems can be talked about without shame or stigma. Could there be a greater gift? Other kids will be exposed to things they may never have thought about or tried to understand. As one of the characters in “Every Single Second” says, “I didn’t get it before. I never knew anybody like her, with a family like that, and problems like that.”
Middle grade readers brim with hope. Empathy is in their DNA. There could be no better, more open-hearted and receptive audience for books about the hard issues. It’s such an honor and privilege to work for them!
If you’d like to win a signed copy of “Every Single Second”, please leave a comment below. More book recs especially welcome!
Tricia is lucky enough to have been a Mixed Up Files member for many years. You can find out more about her and her books at www.triciaspringstubb.com