Jo could never have guessed that the friendship she so desperately craves would come in the shape of a severely disabled boy. He can’t even speak. Maybe it is because he can’t speak that she finds herself telling him how difficult it is living with her eccentric, mentally fragile mother.
Behind Chris’ lopsided grin and gigantic blue wheelchair is a real person — with a sense of humour, a tremendous stubborn streak and a secret he has kept from everyone.
For a while it seems life may actually get better. But as Jo finds out just how terrible life is for Chris, and as her own life spirals out of control, she becomes desperate to change things for both of them. In a dramatic turn of events, Jo makes a decision that could end in tragedy.
This is the story of how an unusual friendship unlocks the words that neither knew they had.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 11th 2014 by O'Brien Press
RESEARCHING FINDING A VOICE
In a way, I have been doing research for Finding a Voice most of my life. It just so happens that many of my experiences in life have involved people with disabilities and challenges of various kinds.
My ‘day jobs’ have always been very interesting. I’ve taught kids in interesting places—like way up north in Canada and across the globe in Malawi. I’ve also taught interesting kids—kids who had tough times in regular classes because they just didn’t fit. Sometimes they didn’t fit because of mental health challenges, or because reading was a challenge, or because they had a unique way of experiencing the world that made it difficult for others to relate to them. I’ve also supported people with various disabilities to live in their homes. And occasionally, I have had the difficult task of supporting people when they needed the safety of a psychiatric ward in the hospital.
So when I naively started to write this novel, with no outline whatsoever, the characters that emerged came from those experiences I suppose. I wouldn’t say that they are ‘typical’ though, any more than any character in a novel is typical. Stories, even realistic stories, are supposed to be an exaggeration, aren’t they? Just a little happier, or a little sadder, or a little faster paced than our own lives.
And yet, I hope that this is a book that kids can ‘see themselves’ in. There are not enough books out there that depict the vastly varying experiences of kids--about ten percent of who happen to have a disability of some kind. I wonder if authors shy away from writing characters with disabilities because they are afraid of ‘not getting it right’. Even with half a lifetime of experience working with people with disabilities and mental illness, now that Finding a Voice is out there, I am afraid that I didn’t capture the experience of having a disability or mental illness correctly.
The stories that might not be told because of this fear! There are so many ways to find out more about kid’s experiences with disability and mental illness. There is the internet of course, but more importantly, there are real people out there who can share their experience. It’s okay to ask a person with a disability questions (someone you know of course!). There are also people like me—teachers, special needs assistants, therapists, support workers—who would be happy to answer questions about ‘technical stuff’ and maybe even make introductions to someone with a disability who might help with research.
I do hope that if an author has a great story, with a character who happens to have a disability, that the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ becomes less than the need to write the story, because kids need diverse books that reflect the diversity of their lives. I think we have an obligation to write those books.
About the Author
Kim Hood grew up in a Canada and now lives in Ireland with her family and a menagerie of animals. Writing is her all-time favourite thing to do—nearly a tie with reading. Her first novel Finding a Voice has just been published by O’Brien Press. www.kimhood.com