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Q+A with Girl Fight author Faye Harnest

January 5th, 2012 by Carrie Gleason

Fayegirl fight 

Q: One reviewer had this to say about Girl Fight: "This book hits timely topics, and hits them hard. The rawness of the language and emotion make it a difficult read, but an important one." (Resource Links Volume 17, Number 2) Why was it important for you to write this story?

A: I wanted to write about a girl who is tough, smart, and funny, and I wanted to write a character who questions what people expect from a “girl” and questions what a “strong girl” looks like. This character became Zadie, the protagonist of Girl Fight.

I thought I’d be too lazy to actually write this novel but sentences from the first chapter kept materializing while I was trying to sleep. For two weeks, 6 a.m. would come and I would realize that the entire night was over and these sentences had kept me awake. I got to the point where it was easier to write the book than not.

 

Q: The subject of this book is girl-on-girl violence and bullying, but your approach is unique. For many girls, even those who have never hit another person, there must at one time or another been the desire to. Yet fighting is something more commonly expected from teenage boys rather than girls. There are obvious gender expectations at work here. Why did you choose to write about the girls and violence like you did?

A: I was disturbed by some of the media’s comments on recent reports of violent physical fighting between girls. They [the media] seemed shocked that girls were capable of physical power and that girls could possess the instinct or desire to fight. They couldn’t see a girl in any role except for that of the victim. I wasn’t comfortable with that and thought I could give teen readers a character that is more complicated and more like the girls I know.

I also wanted to touch on different ways that violence can be perpetrated. I had researched cyberbullying for another project and was hyper-aware of how inescapable it is and how frightened Zadie would feel when targeted in this way.

Also, I want to draw on the unique writing style of that book — with the graphic novel references. 

 

Q: Are you a big fan of graphic novels yourself? Was that what inspired you? If so, which ones in particular?

A: I am definitely a fan of graphic novels and comics. Julie Doucet, Marjane Satrapi, Elisabeth Belliveau, and Mariko & Jillian Tamaki — to name just a few big ones — are definitely authors/artists that I try to steal as much from as I can. A lot of these authors have great sense of humour, and I try to write things that are humorous too, because I like to entertain myself, to make myself laugh while I’m writing.

Graphic novels have probably influenced me more than I realize, but I think that my writing style is a byproduct of how much I love to play around with language and my admiration of lit heroes like bpNichol and Gertrude Stein. I like to use onomatopoeia and caps wherever I can, because I enjoy that stuff as a reader, and I think it has special appeal to reluctant readers too. I always think about the page as a space and I love it when I see words jump off of it. It makes me giggle. I've spent just as much time writing concrete poetry and puppet animations as writing long narratives, and in general I care more about whether every sentence is beautiful than I care about whether anything is happening plot-wise.

I knew a lot of things about Zadie from the beginning, but I didn’t know that she would be an artist. I think that my decision to have Zadie draw and my decision to utilize comic/graphic novel elements was in part a strategy to approach the scenes of heavy violence in a way that I could be comfortable with and interested in. And filling the first fight scenes with speech bubbles and stars and movement lines that only Zadie could see was a way to show how out-of-touch Zadie was with reality. Zadie sees herself as a comics superhero, and superhero-type comics are really curious domains where women can and do kick ass regularly, but can still be objectified hard-core. So it’s a pretty weird and confusing place to exist in, and that headspace made Zadie’s emotional problems multiply.

 

Q: Are there any autobiographical elements to this story?

A: Yes. In high school I felt a lot of the anger that Zadie feels, and I had no idea what to do with that anger. I felt underestimated and frustrated, and I didn't realize then that other people feel that too.

Zadie's little sister, RAMONA ROAR!!!, is based on my sister Rhonda.

And Ms. Cohen, the art teacher, was definitely based on my high school art teacher, who embodies the universal art teacher quirkiness and whose sweaters were fascinating.

Art and writing were refuges for me in high school. I love the idea of a person being able to save themselves through their art. I don't know how often it happens but I cling to the idea that everyone has stuff like that — stuff you can do that you love — and that you could stumble on these things any day now.

 

Editor's P.S.: Faye's book is getting very positive responses from early reviewers. Girl Fight is a Resource Links 2011 Year's Best book. Girl Fight is "Highly Recommended." by CM-Canadian Materials. Read the 4-star review here: http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol18/no14/girlfight.html

 

Crisis at Home

January 6th, 2012 by Carrie Gleason

These three award-winning novels explore the feelings and reactions that teenagers have when their lives are disrupted by a crisis at home that is way beyond their control.

skin deep In Skin Deep, by BC writer Sandra Diersch, Corinne has big plans for the summer between grades nine and ten — she and her best friend, Romi, are planning makeovers that will put them on the popularity list next year. But Corinne's world falls to pieces when she discovers that her mom has breast cancer. Instead of shopping malls and spas, Corinne's summer is filled with doctor's visits and chemo treatments. This novel examines the range of emotions a teenager feels when faced with the realization that her parents are all too mortal.

Skin Deep is a Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens selection. It was "Highly Recommended" by CM Magazine. Follow the link to read the full review: http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol17/no2/skindeep.html

 

best laid plansIn Best Laid Plans, Robyn has big plans to get as far away from her family as she can. She's tired of living in poverty at the family's struggling farm in the Okanagan. Robyn's got her sights set on university in Ontario. But then her younger sister reveals that she's pregnant. Suddenly there's pressure for Robyn to put her future on hold to stay and help her family. Robyn has to decide whether to put herself or her family first.

Best Laid Plans is a Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens selection.

 

 

 

splitIn Lori Weber's Split, eighteen-year-old Sandra doesn't go to her high school graduation ceremony: there's no one to cheer for her since her mother walked out on her and her alcoholic father a few months ago. Now Sandra feels lost and abandoned, with no one to relate to or to give her any direction or guidance. 

Split is a Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens selection. For a full review of this "Highly Recommended" novel, click on the link: http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol12/no5/split.html

 

 

Friends or Frenemies?

January 6th, 2012 by Carrie Gleason

There's no doubt how important friendships are in the teenage years. But with that also come a whole host of potential conflict, especially when it comes to peer pressure and standing up for oneself. The challenge for some teens is deciding when enough is enough.  These four novels explore different toxic relationships in the lives of teens:

truth and liesIn Truth and Lies main character Erin seeks to find the person responsible for a physical attack on her long-time friend Marcel, who is gay. This novel examines the different homophobic attitudes that abound in Erin's high school as well as the dynamic between different high school cliques.

 

 

 

 

 

out of timeOut of Time by Peter McPhee deals with a subject that many students across Canada will no doubt be talking about after last year's disturbing news stories around bullying and teen suicide. In this book, three friends who consider themselves "outsiders," have carried out a suicide pact. One has been found dead, another is in hospital, and the third is still missing. It's up to a fourth friend, Eileen to find her

 

 

 

 

final takedownIn Final Takedown by Brent R. Sherrard, main character Elias is growing up in poverty with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. For the longest time, Elias has counted on his best friend Silas and his family for support. Together Elias and Silas are no strangers to trouble. But then a fight in the school yard ends with both boys being charged. Elias and Silas are warned by a judge to stay out of the trouble because the next time they show up in his courtroom, they'll be sent to jail. This is enough to make Elias start to rethink his life, but not SilaSo when Silas comes up with an idea for a crime that could get them into a lot of trouble, Elias has to decide whether to stick by a friend who has been like a brother to him, or strike out on his own.

Final Takedown is a Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens selection.

Sex and the Streets

January 6th, 2012 by Carrie Gleason

Last ChanceON the game

On the Game by Monique Polak and Last Chance by Lesley Choyce are two novels that explore extreme situations faced by some desperate young people: teenage prostitution.

In On the Game, journalist, writing instructor, and prize-winning author Monique Polak has fictionalized the true story of a fifteen-year-old girl who is lured into prostitution by her first love, an older man who preys on young, innocent, and lonely girls like her. Although Yolande, the main character, is rescued from a dangerous situation in the end, many girls in the real world are not. This is a realistic, cautionary tale about how a teen can be lured into the sex trade without realizing what is happening.

On the Game is a Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens selection. To see what teen readers think of On the Game, view the reader comments on Monique Polak's website: http://moniquepolak.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=422&Itemid=64

In Lesley Choyce's novel Last Chance, two teens, Melanie and Trent, are navigating life on the streets. Although neither is in a position to look after the other, Trent finds them a place to stay, while Melanie learns to buy food on very tight budget. Despite all their struggles trying work within the social welfare system, stay in school, and make ends meet, it seems like they might just be okay — until Melanie finds out that the reality of their situation is much darker than she could have imagined: Trent lied to her about his job working the night shift at a factory, instead he's been working the streets as a male prostitute.

Last Chance is a Resource Links 2010 Year's Best book. Visit the blog of this 8th-grade teacher for a review: http://readingjunky.blogspot.com/2010/06/last-chance-by-lesley-choyce.html

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