A Brother's Presence by Rin Chupeco
I was six years old when I learned that I had an older brother I would never meet. Growing up in a slightly traditional Chinese family, we’re not used to expressing emotions and feelings. But it was clear that my mother’s miscarriage had cast a pall over the family, even when it went unspoken. My parents had been looking forward to having a baby boy, and on the rare moments when that topic came up (often unexpectedly) in conversation, I could sense that quiet sadness that never went away.
I was in my teens before I realized that I—or my father, or the both of us without either side acknowledging—might have started compensating for that absence. I was always tomboyish, and I gravitated to action figures, martial arts, and rough sports. I’d always been the daddy’s girl. My father was an award-winning basketball coach, and while basketball initially didn’t strike my fancy I joined basketball camps that he helped oversee and and practiced mainly to spend more time with him. We had similar interests in pop culture and the like, so we were quick to bond over them - he taught me how to speak Klingon, bought me my first light saber, played video games together.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that these were easily things he could have done with my older brother or—what would probably have happened—things we both could have done with my older brother. I’ve heard of other Chinese parents, fathers in particular, who resent not having a son and often take that frustration out on their families. To his credit, my father never did any of that. But I could see his wistfulness when he played with some of my younger cousins, singling out one of them in particular to constantly tease and play pranks on (jokes and humor were his chosen method of expressing affection), or on those rare occasions when anyone ever alluded to my older brother. I saw it most clearly in his unabashed happiness when I told him he was going to have a grandson, and when he nearly broke down when Ezio was born.
It was when I was pregnant that I started thinking about that brother more often than I ever had in the past, (brought back to the fore most recently, since my little Ezio is about to have a new sibling as well). I had just finished The Suffering, the sequel to the Girl from the Well, and while I’d taken a few months off from writing to prepare for a toddler I’d also been at a loss over what to write next. Somewhere during those sleepless nights where I had to wake every couple of hours to feed my baby or pump, I started coming back to that. My brother didn’t even get to have a name, and it felt wrong for him not to have one. I thought about giving him one, thought about Chinese mythology where spirits could come back from the dead—not to haunt and terrorize like Western urban legends, but sometimes to comfort and impart knowledge.
In Chinese lore, they sometimes came back as fox spirits.
Chinese spirits were also transcendent, intelligent specters—in many stories they show themselves to philosophers while the latter meditate or study; sometimes they even take tea with them.
So I started writing about a girl named Tea and a brother she brought back from the dead, named Fox.
The Bone Witch is a lot of things - a ghost story, a warning about how absolute power can go wrong, a coming of age story, a vengeance quest, a magic tale, a treatise about the patriarchy and how even well-meaning matriarchies can get things wrong.
But at its heart, in its truest, purest form of heartsglass, is just a story about a girl and her brother.
The Bone Witch is about learning to live together, about what it’s like to be family.
The Heart Forger is about learning to make choices beyond that family, to be independent while still learning to give each other space, about learning to maintain that love despite change.
And the Shadowglass, due out next year, will be about learning how to say goodbye.
And I think it’s the best eulogy about my brother that I’ve ever written.
Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.
She is represented by Rebecca Podos of the Helen Rees Agency.
The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger are available for purchase.
*This post originally appeared at Diversity in YA, and has been
brought to you thanks to our partner, Cindy Pon!*
Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. Her most recent novel, Serpentine (Month9Books, 2015), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and VOYA. The sequel, Sacrifice, releases this September. WANT, a near-future thriller set in Taipei, will be published by Simon Pulse in summer 2017. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Learn more about her books and art http://cindypon.com.