Sunday, August 08, 2021

The Way "I" Say It

I've finished reading my first digital arc from NetGalley, The Way I Say It, by Nancy Tandon, which, I am relieved to say, is a beautifully written book about real child situations. I say "relieved," because Nancy is a member of my writers' group, this is her debut novel, and things could have been awkward, since my followers here are aware that I'm a little picky in my reading. (To be honest, in my head I talk about books the way the legendary Roy Kent on Ted Lasso talks about soccer.)

In our writers' group, we are all working on a number of things. Some of these projects go back a while and as new members come into the group, they may not be aware of what individuals were working on in the past. And some of us, yes, I mean me, may be a little irregular in our attendance. So while I was aware of this book and that it was being submitted to agents and when agents got involved and when it was sold, my knowledge was what you might call superficial.

For instance, I thought The Way I Say It was about a kid with a speech impediment and how he deals with it. I would argue that's not the basic story here. The basic story, to me, is far more sophisticated. It's about a kid, who happens to have a speech issue, dealing with his anger and guilt over a failed relationship and how that impacts his world during sixth grade.

I hate to go into too much detail, since there were a couple of points where I actually exclaimed while reading this book, because I am so lazy that I didn't even read all the flap copy. I don't want to take that experience away from other readers. (Don't read the flap copy!)

So I'll talk about some other things.

What Do I Mean By Real Child Situations?

Over the years, I've found that many middle grade novels, especially the ones that are warmly embraced by gatekeepers, deal with situations adults find...uh, shall we say...terrifying? Dead parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, divorce, terminal illnesses, chronic disease, war, and the ever popular demented old people, for example. I'm not saying these aren't terrifying situations or that they never happen within children's families. But there's a whole other category of issues that are important to children and focusing on the major life problems that adults find important all the time suggests that children's problems are not valuable enough to showcase in books for them.

In The Way I Say It, Nancy Tandon deals with a school year full of these types of issues. Fear of humiliation and not being included, struggles to deal with uncomfortable interactions, beginning to want to spend time with members of the opposite sex, getting started on a new school year and having to rebuild relationships or make new ones. Starting a new school year is like starting a new job, people. We think starting a new job is important, don't we? Why isn't starting the new school year enough without killing someone off or breaking up a marriage to go along with it?

Write Who You Are


I don't like to use the expression "write what you know," because, first, it's a cliche and, second, it has become somewhat controversial. People get very hot under the collar about what it means and what it has to do with them. I prefer "write who you are." Nancy Tandon is a speech therapist. I believe that's why the great deal of speech therapy talk in her book sounds natural and normal to the moment where it takes place. She drew upon who she is to create details for her main character and the teacher who plays a big part in his sixth-grade life and for various situations she puts them into.
It's true you can research whatever you want to write about. But there used to be an expression I'd see in book reviews, "don't let the research show." That can be difficult to do if you haven't had an opportunity to live with or maybe work with that research for a while. It can create information dumps or at least sound forced. The Way I Say It illustrates the value of writing who you are.

The Way I Say It will be published Jan. 18, 2022 by Charlesbridge. I'm excited to see how it will do.

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