Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Lea Beddia. Take it away, Lea!
What are the first words you think of when you read Teenagers are…?
Did the words resourceful, hard-working, or resilient come to mind? We’ve all heard negative stereotypes about how today’s generation have it so easy, but we overlook the many young people living in a constant struggle against poverty. These kids are full-time problem-solvers. Today’s teens are resilient and sensitive, but they are wrongfully taught that sensitivity is a weakness.
This is why I wrote Outta Here (James Lorimer & Company, September 2023). Élise, the main character lives with her mom, Claire, who has succumbed to opioid addiction. Claire’s illness has left Élise with a multitude of responsibilities and one tough choice. Should she stay home after high school to care for Mom, or leave for the city to attend the college of her dreams? Her choice is a burden, outweighed only by her decision of whether or not to open up to her best friend about her mom’s addiction and financial troubles. She does not want to appear weak, but Élise must pick between what’s best for her mom or for herself. Many young people face such choices, but feel unequipped to handle them.
For many families living in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, young adults have stepped up to hold the fort. When the pandemic hit and students in Quebec attended school online, many of them shut off their screens and found jobs in pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations. They woke up early, put on uniforms and helped support their families. My idea for Outta Here was sprung as my frustration hit an all-time high during the pandemic when the education minister at the time sent a wave of mixed messages to young people. At first, online learning was more about checking in with teachers and classmates. Students who did not have the bandwidth to be on Zoom got jobs instead. Then, the minister made an announcement stating a student’s job was to learn, not work. Even in the most ineffective learning conditions, while their parents struggled to make ends meet and workers were leaving their jobs because they’d contacted the virus or were afraid to, students were expected to sit in front of screen all day. I was angry because our young people were taking on huge responsibilities. They were the ones who served us at the check-out of the grocery store and they stocked the shelves after the toilet paper ran out.
I have been teaching high school for nearly twenty years, and from my standpoint, not much teaching was going on at this time. I was home with my own three young children, teaching to a handful of students who did not turn on their cameras or microphones for our ‘classes’. I told my students, “Get outside. Help your adults.” And they did.
The day after the minister’s announcement, I asked a colleague who runs our school’s Facebook page to create a post thanking our students and their parents who were essential workers. Their resourcefulness and resilience inspired Élise. Although I chose not to set the story during the pandemic, I think the urgency of her needs reflect the times. Like Élise, many young people are taking care of themselves. More importantly, they are learning to ask for help when it all gets too much.
We are working hard to normalize asking for help, to remove the stigma of mental health and poverty. I hope Élise can help young people do that. I also hope she can help readers understand how everyone struggles in some way. Élise is also having a hard time keeping her grades up. College is a possibility, but she has to graduate first and she is already repeating some courses. She’s interested in school, but reading is tough for her. So many teens struggle with reading. They may say they don’t like it, but truly, they find it overwhelming. Their immediate needs are to be safe, fed and loved. They don’t always have all three needs fulfilled. Sometimes, they don’t even have one fulfilled, so reading is not at the top of their list. With that in mind, Outta Here and my first novel, Take Off! (Rebel Mountain Press, 2023) are written for striving readers. Books for this readership offer a linear storyline with few characters. They are ideal for learners with language difficulties, second language learners or anyone who likes a quick read without forfeiting the drama and impact of a great YA novel.
Outta Here is available as of today (September 1st) from Lorimer Children and Teens at https://lorimer.ca/childrens/
To find out more about Lea and her books, or to schedule a school visit, head to www.leabeddia.com.