About the author:
Katrina Kittle taught middle and high school English for 11 years. She is the author of four other novels and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University in Louisville.
Find Katrina online at her website katrinakittle.com, the Reasons to be Happy blog, on facebook, and on twitter.
I asked Katrina for a guest post on what prompted her to write this particular book. Here's what she says...
Do you remember middle school? Was your experience pretty horrible? Mine was. Such a crazy, miserable time of insecurity. My life had been great leading up to sixth grade…and suddenly it was a trainwreck. Most memories of that time seem all fuzzy with self-doubt, humiliation, unbearable shyness. Ugh. I would no more want to re-live that time that I would want to chop off one of my own hands!
When I became a middle school teacher myself, I kept a photo of my seventh grade self in my desk drawer. This awful photo—of me with a hideous perm (I'd had a friend give it to me so that I could have curls like the popular girls), goofy glasses (how I longed for the contact lenses I would finally get in high school), and wearing outrageous, ridiculous high heels (were they comfortable? no! did I look natural in them? no! did I do much that made sense then? no!)—was my reminder on the days the students were making me to want to go drink vodka in the teacher's bathroom! That photo gave me compassion and patience for my students. That photo reminded me: they can't help it. I mean, I could walk into my classroom and feel the hormones and anxiety in the air.
But then I started thinking: why can't they help it? Remembering my own experience, I grew so disheartened by a particular phenomenon I saw unfold over and over again: bright, bold, curious girls—strong and confident in their abilities—would hit the wall of self-doubt around seventh grade. They'd lose all sense of their own unique identity, stop taking any risks, and retreat into approval-seeking behaviors that made them all seem like watered-down clones of each other. Every single one of my novels has begun with a social issue I'm passionate about, and one day I realized this concern and obsession I had with “keeping girls brave and confident” was my new story. I began to seek the cast of characters who could inhabit this story, and Hannah Anne Carlisle came into existence.
As a writer, I'm fascinated with how story ideas will simmer a long, long time before they take shape. I'll often have several different story “threads” and suddenly one day it will finally become clear which threads I might be able to braid together to make a book. That certainly happened with Reasons to Be Happy. Hannah's “list” was something I did in my own classroom—putting a reason to be happy on the whiteboard every day. I already had the drama of the middle school pecking order playing out in front of me on a daily basis. I knew that body image was still a huge part of the middle school girl identity crisis. I could pull specific knowledge of the particular workings of bulimia and anorexia from my years as a serious ballet student, and, sadly, from some experiences with my own students. (Instead of improving the situation with our awareness and understanding of body image and eating disorders, these issues seem more pervasive than ever before—40 percent of nine-year-olds have already dieted!) Add to this my own secret obsession with celebrity gossip (friends are sometimes horrified to discover this about me. I guess they all think I'm much more lofty-minded than I really am!), which led me to make Hannah's parents into A-list actors. I also have local friends who are twice-Academy-Award-nominated documentary film makers (hence, the creation of Hannah's Aunt Izzy). And I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Ghana once with a group of students, and had long been looking for the right place to use some of my experiences from that life-altering trip. (I actually had a goat under my bed one night in Tafi Atome, just like Hannah does).
What I hope readers take away from the book is that our authentic selves are so much more interesting and beautiful (and less maintenance!) than anything we “manufacture” to please others. It took Hannah being plunked down in a culture where she had no idea what was even considered beautiful, for her to be kind to herself and accept her own body. We all spend so much time comparing ourselves, judging ourselves against that teensy percentage of women who are supermodels (airbrushed supermodels, thank you very much) instead of accepting our imperfections and embracing our own unique beauty. Hannah discovers that what she perceived as an imperfection is actually one of her strengths.
That's the real beauty of the writing life to me: we use everything. Anything I see or experience, no matter how random or trivial, might just become a piece of “the story behind the story.”
About the book:
Title: Reasons to be Happy
Author: Katrina Kittle
ARC: 277 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2011
Purchase at IndieBound, Amazon, The Book Depository
What Happens When You’re Not So Perfect?drey's thoughts:
How could so much change so fast?
Let’s see, you could be a plain Jane daughter of two gorgeous famous people; move to a new school; have no real friends; your mom could get sick; and, oh yeah, you could have the most embarrassing secret in the world. Yep, that about does it.
Hannah is an eighth grader trying her hardest to cling to what she knows and loves while her world shatters around her. Her parents are glamorous Hollywood royalty, and sometimes she feels like the ugly duckling in a family of swans. Faced with her mother’s death and her father’s withdrawal into grief, Hannah turns to the one thing she can control: her weight.
Hannah’s self-destructive secret takes over her life, but the new Beverly Hills clique she’s befriended at school only reinforces her desire to be beautiful, and not even the quirky misfit Jasper—the only one who seems to notice or care—can help. It will take a journey unlike any other to remind Hannah of who she really is, and to begin to get that girl back. Reasons to Be Happy is about standing up for all the things you love—including yourself.
Hannah Carlisle should be on top of the world. Her parents are movie stars. She herself is an artist and an athlete. Her life is good…
Then she starts at a new school, and all at once everything changes. Why? Because she can’t seem to get herself—her real self—unstuck from the person she becomes with the group she hangs out with at school… Seems like an easy solution: stop hanging out with that group! But Hannah’s bravery has deserted her, and she can’t. So she finds another way to deal with that stress.
I couldn’t believe that such a lovely and talented girl would fall prey to the clutches of the mean girls at school, right from the get-go. Then again, I was never in that situation, so I’m not in any position to say what could be real or not… I wanted to read this book to see how an author addresses one of the many problems that our young girls and women face as they battle their own body image. And see how a young girl's own self-image could become so skewed.
What happened to Hannah can happen to any other eighth-grader, or any other young girl or woman you know. We are too often bombarded with negativity--we're too fat, too tall, to short, too flat, etc. Even when we do well at school or other pursuits, even to those who love us best, it seems our looks are still our most-used measuring stick--and we never seem to measure up. Why is that?
Who defines beautiful? Is it the media? The entertainment industry? Our families? Friends? Acquaintances we barely know? Whose opinion carries the most weight? Why? And most importantly (to me at least): Why do we give control of our own selves over to those who certainly (usually?) don’t give a rat’s behind what happens to us? And what can we do about it? Ok, so maybe I'm being a little harsh--after all, we expect that our parents and loved ones do give a rat's patootie. And we're all just a bit (hah!) too sensitive...
Hannah's being "outed" by her aunt is one step towards recognition, and possible recovery. And when she has to go to Ghana for four weeks, that's four weeks dedicated to something other--other than thinking and stressing about her self, her weight, her insecurities... Can she keep up the progress once she's back in the USA though? You'll have to read Reasons to be Happy to find out.
drey's rating: Pick it up! We need more books like this to reinforce a healthier self-image for our young girls and women! And not just books and messages; we also need to follow through with action. What we say and do is definitely worth more than what we say to do!
Have you read Reasons to be Happy? What did you think? And if you haven't, here's your chance to win a copy!
Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of Reasons to be Happy for you, if you live in the US (no PO Boxes, please). To enter, fill out the form below. Good luck!