I believe that an author’s first priority is integrity to the story. We must listen to our characters and take them where they demand to go. Yet we cannot deny the immense influence authors wield over their audiences. For children’s authors, this influence is particularly potent. The youth of today become the caretakers of tomorrow.
My latest novel, Punch Like a Girl, addresses a topical issue head on. In it, 17-year-old Tori develops a hero complex, trying to rescue others whether they want it or not, in order to avoid facing her own fears of sexual assault. At publication, numerous high-profile incidents involving sexual assault were in the headlines, bringing the issue to the forefront of traditional and social media, and pushing for a public conversation that is long overdue. For readers, I hoped my book would spark open discussion on what a healthy relationship looks like. I didn’t anticipate the very personal conversations I’d have with readers – in writing and face to face.
I’ve had teen girls ask me what to do about a friend who is in an unhealthy relationship. I’ve had inspiring conversations with survivors of domestic or dating abuse. I’ve had a teacher approach me to meet personally with a gifted young writer who wrote about her story of survival. These conversations show what a huge impact a book can have on readers. Enough to open their minds to a new worldview. Enough to make much-needed cultural shifts in our society, now and in the future.
— Saydo (@Canadian_BBPR) September 24, 2015
For me, writing Punch Like a Girl was a way to understand the trauma and recovery process from the inside. It was about the building of a hero from the ashes of a victim, which is Tori’s journey. But it’s also becoming a talking point, sparking conversations about violence against girls and women. Tori and I have both learned about the power of community and how to punch back.
After interaction with readers, I’ve come to a few conclusions. Not only do we need to be good stewards of our earth in order to pass it on to future generations, we need to be good stewards of our youth. For authors, this means we need to recognize that, in creating content for children and youth, we have a social responsibility. I’m not advocating didactic, preachy, or moralistic lessons, since this doesn’t maintain the integrity of the story. However, social responsibility can affect our choice of story idea, the diversity of our characters, the actions our characters take, the changes they go through, and how we interact with readers during readings and workshops as well as online. As cultural critic Henry Giroux says, although creators want to make great art, we also have a responsibility to create a world in which great art can thrive.