Hope. As a novelist, I’ve written about two children looking for a forever home, and I’m aware that I’m in a time-honored tradition of giving kids hope.
Take for example, Katherine Paterson’s description of foster children as “Kleenex children.” You use them up and throw them away, she said. Her stories about these trouble children, including The Great Gilly Hopkins, which inspires me in several ways.
Give Kleenex Children a Voice
One thing Paterson did with her stories is illuminate a character who has charm, gumption, and the need to be seen and heard. When families are disrupted by any means, it’s the kids that suffer. Divorce, death, abandonment, drug use, alcoholism–these can put children into unpleasant or even dangerous situations. In those cases, finding themselves within the pages of a book can be therapeutic and escapism in a good way.
And yet, the novel shouldn’t look down on the kids and judge them. Paterson manages to present credible kids who are respected for their ability to force action from those around them.
When I created my own characters–Eliot Winston and Alli Flynn–I worked to give them personality, humor, and the willingness to work hard for their hopes of a family. The stories are poignant, but realistic.
End on a Note of Hope
Paterson has said that she doesn’t try to sugar-coat a situation. She faces it head-on. But literature should rise above the situation, which means she always ends with a note of hope. It’s not that the situations are easy to bear. But in the midst of difficulty, there appears to be a way forward.
I appreciated the example of realism in THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS. But I also find it compelling to add in a note of hope. It’s not the fairy-tale, “and they lived happily ever after.” Problems aren’t ignored. But there’s HOPE, real hope that something will change. I reach for deep emotional moments where the reader connects with the characters and their hearts swell with hope that all will be well for Eliot and Alli.
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