[Danielle Younge-Ullman debuted in July 2008 with Falling Under (do read presentation/review) — a book this Fairy Godmother described as painfully breathtaking and brutally exquisite. And it remains so in its Kindle Editon and NOOK Book format.
Today, in this guest post, the author focuses on her inspiration for the novel, and what makes the story passionately honest.]
But I was mad when I wrote FALLING UNDER. Furious, in fact. And the issues I was furious about are what sparked and drove the writing of the book.
Inspiration didn’t come to me like a butterfly, in other words, or even a beam of sunlight. More like a burning astroid, or a Mac truck.
The thing I was on about, and angry about, is what happens to kids when their parents divorce, particularly when those parents cease to function as parents, leaving the kids to navigate the world on their own…to essentially parent themselves.
Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter Sixteen that will give you an example. (My protagonist, Mara, has just been kicked out of her mother’s house.)
“The morning you arrive with your huge suitcase, Dad tries the heart-to-heart, but it’s not helpful to have him rant about what a bitch Mom is and then punch the wall beside the fridge, get hammered that night, and refuse to go to work the next day.
Certain kinds of support are worse than none at all.”
Sure, divorce is an everyday kind of tragedy these days. And yes, kids are elastic, adaptable, they survive. Sometimes they adapt so well on the surface that nobody sees how deeply and profoundly their view of the world has changed; how hurt they are, how alone they feel, how much more precarious everything seems to them, how much less they trust.
Mara, is a sensitive kid, a smart kid, a funny kid, and also a survivor. But the decisions she makes, as a result of having no stability and no parental figures she can trust or go to for guidance, are not often the best. The results are sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, often both. And Mara grows up to be a mass of contradictions and unfulfilled potential—so afraid of the world that she can barely leave her house most days, stuck in a horrible artistic and professional rut, and burdened by a past littered with disastrous romantic (and sexual) relationships.
Mara’s adult life is consistent with what studies and statistics say, which is that many of the effects of divorce become evident only when a child reaches adulthood and confronts adult relationships. These are conflicted people who’ve had to rely on themselves, and don’t necessarily know how to function in a trusting relationship. They are also (statistically) likely to be less educated, more substance-addicted, less financially stable, less emotionally and psychologically stable, more likely to marry early, more likely to divorce…and it goes on. Unfortunately these stats are true of the adult children of all divorced families, including the amicable and “good” divorces, though of course the more stability and support provided by parents, family and community, the better chances the child/grown-child has of thriving.
Think about what that means, in a society where 50% of people are getting divorced…
Now I want to be clear: I am NOT on an anti-divorce rant. There are people who shouldn’t stay together, people who can’t.
I simply wanted to tell a story that would pull people, as viscerally as possible, into Mara’s experience, so that they would understand it. I wanted to reach out to adults and young adults who have been through this and maybe wonder why they (possibly) feel screwed-up and are not coping, and let them know they’re having a normal reaction, and that they can work through it. And I wanted to reach out to parents who may have divorced, or be considering it, and give them a sense of how it might affect their children, how important it is for them to continue to provide as much stability and leadership and understanding as possible, so their kids can better cope with whatever happens.
And then, if it’s not too much to ask, I’d also like society as a whole to start doing a better job at supporting families in crisis. Because THAT would be inspiring…in the beam-of-sunlight-bursting-through-the-clouds sort of way.