Today, we welcome OneFour KidLit author Chris Struyk-Brown to discuss her debut novel, WHISPER. Here’s the book’s official blurb:
Whisper was a reject, living in a world so polluted and damaged that many humans and animals alike were born with defects. She’d grown up in an outcast camp far from any village, and those who lived in the camp were like her: disfigured.
But on her sixteenth birthday, Whisper’s father came to take her back to the village where she was to fill her mother’s vacated spot and perform duties for the family. Her job was to cook, clean, wash the clothes, and maintain the family property. At night she was chained to the doghouse.
This is a story about Whisper, trying to find a place in a world that doesn’t accept her. It is a story of rejection, pollution and social status. Whisper discovers that through perseverance, friends and determination, anyone can find a way to fit.
EK: WHISPER is a novel with many layers and lots to say. Describe the journey that led you to this story.
CSB: I’m afraid that the story idea for WHISPER did not come to me in a moment of profound inspiration. It came to me through a conversation I had with my aunt. My aunt, a receptionist at a doctor’s clinic in Vancouver, B.C., used to work for a doctor who was originally from India. The doctor had immigrated to Canada for a number of reasons, but one of those reasons had to do with helpless frustration. Every day she would see children on the streets who had treatable medical conditions but would not have those conditions fixed. The families of these children either didn’t have enough money to treat the child’s condition, or they didn’t realize the condition could be treated, or they simply could not afford to treat the condition because the child brought in income through begging.
I was stunned by this revelation. In The United States and Canada, we rarely see children with these conditions, and yet it is not uncommon in many areas around the world. I began to wonder what it would be like to be that child – the child who realizes, when she’s of age, that her condition was treatable and she could have lived a very different life had she received medical attention. Thus Whisper was born. She is that child.
EK: What did Whisper teach you about yourself?
CSB: Whisper, the character, taught me that I should listen more and talk less. That is who Whisper is as a character and I can certainly learn something from that. WHISPER, the book, taught me that through patience and time, I can write a good book. Yes, it takes me a long time, many drafts, and much help, but I can do it in the end. If I did it once, I can do it again.
EK: If you could only share one scene of WHISPER with the world, which one would it be?
CSB: Whisper’s life is hard. She’s forced to leave her idyllic home in the woods, she’s not readily accepted into her home village, and when she arrives in the city, she’s forced to beg for a living. In chapter 14, though, we encounter hope. Whisper makes a friend, Candela, and together they use their talents to earn the money they need. Whisper plays the violin and through this instrument her voice is heard. “Play again,” Candela said, “and make everyone want to hold their arms out and turn their faces to the sun.”
EK: What do you hope readers take away from this novel (particularly teens)?
Whisper is quiet, introspective, observant and afraid to speak. By the end of the book, she uses her violin to tell her story and make herself heard. We all have stories to tell and we all have a place in this world; sometimes we have to take a journey to find where we fit, but by the end of our journeys, I hope we all find where we belong.
EK: As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.
I am afraid of being caught up in the rat-race of day-to-day existence without taking time to look at the world, enjoy my children, and feel grounded. I am a workaholic and that is something I need to control.
I am not afraid of cats (small, domestic ones, that is). In fact, I love them. I would be that crazy cat lady with fifty cats swarming around her if my husband and kids didn’t draw some boundaries. I have to settle for the three cats I have, even though one of them likes my husband more than me.
Author Chris Struyk-Bonn is a native of Iowa, but has lived in the Pacific Northwest for so long that she can hardly claim to be a midwesterner anymore. She has two boys and three cats, including one that weighs twenty pounds. Reading and writing young adult literature are her favorite pastimes. This is her first novel.