I finished a lesson on peaceful protest thirty minutes before the students at my middle school led a campus-wide walkout to denounce a racist comment by a teacher. It was messy and complicated—the way a protest by those first learning to exercise their rights ought to be—but it was bold, and it was the inspiration behind Margie Kelly Breaks the Dress Code.
I didn't attend my first march until I was thirty. In college, I watched students holding protest signs outside the student union, awed at their willingness to shout their message at anyone who neared. But things have changed for teens and tweens today. Like the girls in Margie Kelly, they know the high schoolers from Parkland and the activists on Instagram. Born into the era of the Arab Spring, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter, they see the status quo as ripe for the challenge, their voices the anvil to topple it all.
But fighting for change also requires responsibility, a challenge Margie Kelly faces as she learns to speak up in a way that's inclusive. In the novel, Margie learns how easy it is to become blinded by the fire of our own passion and ignore those singed—or burned—along the way.
Regardless of whether it's their hundredth protest or a hope held in silence, I hope readers find a book for today's activists. Mixed in with the fervor of Quiz Bowl competition and the rift between best friends is a celebration of using your voice to change the world around you.
And isn't 2021 ripe for that?
At the BookExpo Middle Grade Buzz Presentation, I talked about who Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home was for.
Front Door Face. It's the perfect mix of puppy dog eyes and a lemonade stand smile, the exact combination to put foster parents at ease as they open their front door to welcome you home. After being bounced around between foster families and shelter stays, twelve-year-old Pavi Sharma is a Front Door Face expert and now runs a "business" helping other foster kids adjust to their new homes.
Pavi was inspired by my partner, Shiva, who also spent time in foster care. While he never ran his own consulting agency for other foster kids (as far as I know), he has been on his own since he was Pavi's age, went to college at 16, and created a great life for himself. Being a foster kid is part of his story, but not the whole one. While there are incredible books centered on the immediate trauma of entering foster care, I wanted to write a book where being a foster kid was part of the protagonist's identity, but not the focus of the story.
Pavi's history with foster care—the shelters, the families—saturate her experience, but her role now is to help other foster kids navigate this new stage of their lives. Her mission changes, however, when she meets Meridee: a new five-year-old foster kid, who is getting placed at Pavi's first horrendous foster home. Pavi knows no one will trust a kid about what happened on Lovely Lane, so it's up to her to save Meridee.