I’m very excited to be the guest blogger today on YABooksCentral! I have two new novels right now—Undiscovered Country, which just came out this month, and On the Spectrum, which is being released this September. The thing the books have in common is that both have an “illness narrative.” Undiscovered Country looks at how one teenaged girl copes with her mother’s breast cancer; On the Spectrum is about how another teenaged girl deals with her own eating disorder and her brother’s autism.
In both books, I tried to show how different people experience illness, and how it affects them and the people they love. Undiscovered Country is based loosely on my own experiences with my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. My mom and I were both overwhelmed by what we felt was an onslaught of pink (think pink ribbons and kitchen tools) and what we called the “girl power” movement. My mom, who was terrified and miserable, felt pressured to be “brave” and a “fighter” and to be endlessly positive. In reality, she felt none of those things, and neither did I. Cancer is ugly and miserable and it isn’t made any prettier with pink spatulas or stand- mixers.
I was older than my character, Cat, when my mom got sick. I had a four year old and a newborn baby at home. When I sought help, the psychiatrist I saw immediately wanted to put me on a host of medications and diagnose me with different disorders. I saw it differently than she did: I was coping with real life, and finding it hard. I wasn’t sure drugs were the answer. I think a lot people these days—teens and otherwise—are handed prescriptions for their problems and while I of course think there are many situations where this is absolutely warranted, I do question the need to pathologize and medicalize every instance of grief and sadness.
In On the Spectrum, Clara battles the eating disorder orthorexia, which is a condition where the person becomes obsessed with healthy and “clean” living. I was inspired to write this after I noticed an alarming trend of women and girls passing off eating disorders as “just wanting to be healthy.” You often see this on Instagram—painfully thin girls hashtagged #cleanliving or #goals. It’s important, of course, to make good choices about food and exercise, but there is a point where the person becomes so obsessed with this concept of “health” that they are repulsed by, say, a slice of birthday cake or skipping the gym for a night out with friends. They start missing out on life. In my novel, there is a scene where a caseworker asks Clara to eat a Hershey kiss, and she cannot do it. She’s revolted at the idea. Making Clara believable was very important to me as a writer. It was important that she didn’t make a sudden, full recovery, for example, and start scarfing down sundaes at the end of the book, because that is unrealistic. An eating disorder can be a lifetime of work to come back from.
Finally, Alistair, Clara’s little brother and her charge for the summer, is on the autism spectrum. Researching and writing Alistair was fascinating for me. I spent a lot of time reading about Temple Grandin, who is a scientist on the autism spectrum and an amazing individual, truly inspiring. I wanted to convey, through Alistair, that
while autism isn’t “normal”, it’s not an “illness.” It’s a different way of being wired, and people on the spectrum have much to offer. In the novel, Clara learns a lot about herself as she learns about and cares for her brother. I took great pains to make Alistair believable, and I hope readers connect with him.
Thanks to YA Books Central for the opportunity to blog here! You can reach me through twitter at @AuthorJennGold, Facebook, or my website: www.jennifergold.ca
Meet Jennifer Gold!
Jennifer Gold won her first creative writing award at nine years old for a short story about Bigfoot and a group of alligators sponsored by the Lipton Soup company. After studying psychology, law, and public health at York, McGill, and Harvard Universities, she decided to return to her first love, fiction. Her first novel, Soldier Doll, was published in 2014 and was selected as part of the Toronto Public Library’s “Word Out” teen reading program and as a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2015. Most recently, it was nominated for the 2016 OLA Forest of Reading White Pine Award. Jennifer’s second book, Undiscovered Country, was released in April 2017 and her third, On the Spectrum, is due in September 2017. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two spirited kids, where she maintains a day job as a lawyer.
Meet The Undiscovered Country!
You can run from grief, but it will follow…
Cat’s life is divided. There is the time Before her mom died, and After. When her mom got sick, Cat still did her homework and got accepted into college, while her father slowly shut down. Now, everything seems meaningless.
Before, Cat was happy and had momentum. After, she feels stuck. And angry. There might be five stages of grief, but Cat can’t get past stage two. She’s so filled with rage, her doctor tries to medicate her. A pill to make her feel like a zombie? No thanks.
When Cat finds a brochure for Students Without Boundaries – a volunteer program that will send her to South America – she grabs it. It’s her escape from the memories of her mother and the reality of her absence. But life as a “voluntourist” is not an escape. The new people and places Cat meets bring new perspectives and challenges she never expected. Life may still have meaning after all.
Meet On the Spectrum!
Growing up in the shadow of a famous mother, Clara has never felt good about her body. Now, at sixteen, she has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. After a social media disaster, she decides to escape for the summer to Paris to stay with her estranged dad and her six-year-old brother, Alastair, who is on the autism spectrum. Charged with his care, Clara and Alastair set out to explore the city. Paris teaches Clara about first love and gives her a new love of food. And Alastair teaches Clara about patience, trust and the beauty of loving without judgment.
The Undiscovered Country // On the Spectrum
By: Jennifer Gold
Release Date: April 2017 // September 2017
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