Spotlight on My Name Is Layla (Reyna Marder Gentin), Guest Post, Plus Giveaway! ~ (US Only)
Today we're excited to spotlight My Name Is Layla by Reyna Marder Gentin.
Read on for more about Reyna and her book, an guest post, plus an giveaway!
Meet Reyna Marder Gentin!
Reyna Marder Gentin grew up in Great Neck, New York. She attended college and law school at Yale. For many years, she practiced as an appellate attorney with a public defender's office before turning to writing full time. Reyna has studied at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and her work has been published widely online and in print. Her debut novel, UNREASONABLE DOUBTS, was named a finalist for the Women's Fiction Writers Association Star Award in 2019. Her first novel for children, MY NAME IS LAYLA, is due out in January, 2021, and Reyna's latest novel, BOTH ARE TRUE, will be published in October, 2021. Reyna lives with her family in Scarsdale, New York. To learn more, please visit reynamardergentin.com.
Meet My Name Is Layla!
School will never be the same...
On the first day of eighth grade, thirteen year-old Layla has a pretty good idea of what’s in store for her– another year of awkward social situations, mediocre grades, and teachers who praise her good behavior but find her academic performance disappointing. Layla feels certain she’s capable of more, but each time she tries to read or write, the words on the page dance and spin, changing partners and leaving her to sit on the sidelines.
Her new English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, senses her potential. When he pushes her to succeed, Layla almost rises to the challenge before making a desperate choice that nearly costs her everything she’s gained. Will she be able to get back on track? And who can she count on to help her?
~ Guest Post ~
THE MAGIC OF MEMORY
Everyone has certain memories of growing up–of parents and siblings, places and events–that come to encapsulate an emotion, define a personality trait, or represent a specific lesson learned. As the years pass, these iconic moments take on a legendary status in how we view our formative years. Hopefully most of the memories are positive ones, and those that aren’t, we’ve come to understand, accept, or let go. Writing a novel for young readers has made me think a lot about memories and the way the snapshots of our childhood experiences affect how we understand life as adults.
My middle grade novel, My Name Is Layla, is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl with undiagnosed dyslexia. The book centers around Layla’s struggles in school and how she nearly destroys her hard won chance at academic success when she makes a foolish choice born of feelings of shame and desperation.
But it’s also very much a family story. Lately, I’ve been wondering what Layla herself would take away as her lasting memories from the experiences her character has in the novel. Which interactions with her mother, her father, and her brother will become symbolic for her, touchstones of her childhood that she’ll turn to long into adulthood for comfort, inspiration, or warning. Maybe it will be the moment when her mother tells her to hold her head high as they head to the principal’s office to face the consequences of Layla’s poor behavior. Or perhaps it will be when her father, long estranged from the family, shares with her that he too has dyslexia, putting into context Layla’s learning difference and letting her know he understands. Or possibly what will stay with Layla is how her brother, Nick, who has been caught up in his own teenage angst, finally drops everything to support her.
The memories we have of our childhood can affect the memories we create for our own children later on. It’s a cycle.
When my kids were young, for example, I had one rule about their birthday parties: whenever possible, they had to be held someplace other than in our house. I’d pay any amount of money, within reason, to ensure that their little friends did not grind chocolate cake into my carpet, shriek at the top of their lungs from excitement or pain, or leave gloves, hats, and sweatshirts behind, items that would invariably remain, forlorn, to remind me of the festivities into the indefinite future. As a result, there were parties at gymnastics centers, and parties at the bowling alley, parties where the kids jumped in huge padded castles, and parties at arcades. The parties were all fun; but there was something generic about them.
This was not at all the way that I grew up in the 1970s. My parents believed religiously in the sanctity of the at-home birthday party. The events were marvelously well organized, almost down to the minute. Most years, they took place in the basement, a large, faux-wood paneled room with white vinyl tiles on the floor and fluorescent lights above. Often, the party would be run like a carnival, with different stations, manned by my two older sisters. A perennial favorite was a booth where my father had rigged up a real fishing rod with a magnet on the end, and we fished for nails out of a big plastic bucket. There was always balloon volleyball, which had the added element of the kids trying, or not, to burst the “ball.”
The year that I turned six my parents decided to have a magic show for my birthday party. To prepare, my father bought a magic kit with enough tricks to entertain my friends for half an hour. He practiced at night after work, when I was asleep, until he had the effects down pat.
On the day of the party, he got dressed in my parents’ bedroom. He wore dark pants and a white button down shirt, with a black cape lined in red handsomely draped over his shoulders and tied in a little bow under his chin. He slicked back his thinning black hair and donned a shiny black top hat. And for the final touch, he drew, with black eyeliner, a thin mustache that curled up at each end.
The show took place in the living room, a more formal room in the house that as children we didn’t usually play in. My friends sat on the floor, waiting patiently for the entertainment to begin. My father, in his full regalia, strode into the room and announced himself as Merlin the Magician. He worked his magic on the children, performing each sleight of hand deftly. The trick I remember best, almost fifty years later, involved two small foam rabbits, which, as the birthday girl volunteer, I was told to squeeze together in my hand. “Hold them very tight and say Abracadabra, while I wave the wand.” When I opened my hand, the bunnies, as is their want, had multiplied. There were card tricks, tricks involving pulling coins out of unsuspecting ears, and tricks with cups hiding rubber balls. And although he was playing to a young and gullible audience, my father had the children eating out of the palm of his hand.
Until he didn’t. When the show ended, he retreated to the bedroom to change so he could help my mother serve the birthday cake. The children, who had, just moments before, been mesmerized by Merlin, began to murmur that he was an imposter. An insurrection was afoot. The grumbling became louder, more insistent and aggressive. As the word spread, the room had the feeling of a mob about to riot. Before I knew it, the children were on their feet in a stampede to the door of my parents’ bedroom where my father, perhaps afraid to come out and add fuel to the fire, sat on the bed behind the closed door, waiting for the fury to pass. The kids pounded on the door, alternately calling for Merlin or my father to open up. “Show us who you are!” they yelled. “Come out, come out!” they chanted. Swept up in the rush of movement, I stood to the side, terrified and crying. Was Merlin my father? And if so, was my father in danger? Would my small six-year-old friends, so incensed at being duped, hurt him if he emerged? I prayed that my father would stay behind the door. He did, and eventually the lure of the mile-high chocolate cake won out over his unmasking, and the children retreated to the dining room.
That birthday party is a memory that’s always stayed with me, one of those mythological moments of childhood that simultaneously encompasses the depth of my father’s love for me, and the incipient understanding that the world can sometimes be a frightening and disappointing. My Name Is Layla is a novel which, like life, has contradictory moments of both defeat and triumph. I hope the story will help young readers learn how to recognize and learn from both.
My Name Is Layla
By: Reyna Marder Gentin
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
Release Date: January 19th, 2021
Five winners will receive a copy of My Name Is Layla (Reyna Marder Gentin) ~ (US Only)
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