I don't devote a post to a book unless I have learned something valuable from it that I want to share with others. Never Gone, by Laurel Garver, is one I immediately knew I wanted - needed - to share.
I'll post my own thoughts on Never Gone coming up in December (my blog is shutting down during November for NaNoWriMo). In the meantime, here's the word on third culture kids and teen grief straight from Laurel (who by the way is in the thick of it with Hurricane Sandy right now. Many thoughts and prayers going out for all my east coast friends and family).
What is your novel Never Gone about?
A grieving teen believes her dead father has come back as a ghost to help her reconcile with her estranged mother.
That’s my most brief synopsis. My favorite synopsis is the trailer:
Your main character is a New Yorker with an American mother and a British father. How do cross-cultural issues affect the family?
American and British social rules differ more that you might think. When I studied abroad there, I struggled to get anyone to talk to me. The other British students were friendly with one another, but standoffish with us exchange students. There are rules to the game of getting inside the high walls of privacy that aren’t immediately apparent to outsiders. I didn’t get fully clued in to how these rules worked until my third visit to the UK, when the friends my husband and I were visiting pointed me to Kate Fox’s Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. It became one of my most useful research books.
Because Britain’s large population is crammed into a small space, personal privacy is highly valued. That’s a major component of why my protagonist’s parents’ marriage works. The mother likes to keep her past in the past and her emotions under wraps, so what could be better than a partner who won’t expect American levels of emotiveness? Humor is also a huge component of communication in Britain, and thus the father’s forte. Any hard-hitting or critical remark is likely to be couched in humor. Embarrassingly tender feelings can be, too.
My protagonist Danielle is what is sometimes called a “third-culture kid”—someone who lives in one culture, but whose family comes from a different culture; he or she teeters precariously between cultures, never fully belonging to either one. Thus Dani struggles with expressing her deepest feelings, suppressing and self-managing more than the typical American teen might. Yet she also wants to call others out for doing the very same thing, her mother in particular. Losing her British father requires Dani to reassess how she fits in the world, and how to reconcile with her American half.
What is unique about teen grief?
When you’re young, it’s harder to deal with major losses because you don’t have experience to draw on that puts the pain in perspective. “Time heals all wounds” is not lived experience; it sounds like a stupid platitude adults say to shut you down. Grief feels overwhelming and absolutely impossible to overcome. Add to that the usual stuff of adolescence—hormonal changes and an identity that’s still under construction—and you can understand why grief can be especially difficult, even explosive for teens.
What’s unique about your approach to grief in the story?
I was particularly interested in exploring the immediate grief experience — those turbulent first weeks immediately after a death. My novel begins a few days after the protagonist loses her dad and the story covers approximately three weeks’ time. Danielle spends much of the story cycling through denial, anger, and bargaining. There are moments of depression and glimpses of what acceptance will look like when it fully flowers. Most of the deepest grief work is still to come for Dani, but the events of the novel prepare her to begin to earnestly do that work, rather than deny or flee from it.
Because of her family culture, Dani especially struggles with feelings of anger. It is one of the toughest emotions to keep under wraps or deflect and soften with humor. She also mistakenly believes that anger has no place in a life of faith. I hope this story will encourage kids growing up in a faith tradition that it’s okay to really wrestle with God in places of deep pain. One of Dani’s friends tells her, “I think God can handle it when we’re mad.” He goes on to point out that large chunks of scripture are at root complaints to God. The Psalmist and other saints of old give us models for talking (and hollering and crying) to our Creator honestly about our pain, which at root is an expression of faith that He hears, cares, comforts and makes things new.
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