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Writing About Grief and Recovery in Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance (a guest post)

When I first got the idea of writing a story about teenage private investigator Berry Fields, I knew right away that Berry had lost her mother at eight years old, and that this loss would inform every aspect of her character.  Berry’s loss made her grow up fast, contributing to her strong and independent personality, but it also left her vulnerable and distrustful.  

Take 5: Spies Like Us (books about spies)
Berry coped with grief by throwing herself into her father’s business and closing herself off to most relationships, choosing to keep around her only those people she was close to before the death of her mother. This devastating loss left Berry with a deep-rooted fear of abandonment, contributing (along with her experience tailing cheating husbands) to her determination to avoid romantic entanglements.
When the story opens, eight years have passed since Berry’s mother died, but the death still haunts Berry, enough that she still sneaks off to the library periodically to read the newspaper story describing the car accident that killed her mom.  
I write down the witness’s name even though I memorized it years ago. Heather Marrone. Writing her name down at least makes me feel like I’m doing something.  The paper calls the whole thing an accident, and I read the article a few more times as if doing so will make it true.  An accident means she didn’t leave me on purpose.
Berry thinks she keeps her grief hidden, but in actuality, she wears it on her chest, a suit of armor so thick it’s nearly impossible to pierce. Berry is trapped in denial, one of the five stages of grief, and she won’t be able to move past it until she confronts what happened to her mother. When a letter surfaces that raises new questions about how her mother died, Berry can’t stop herself from following the trail of bread crumbs and solving the mystery, even if it means risking the few relationships she has left.  
Is that what this is?  An investigation?  I have a new understanding of the women who hire my dad, women whose relationships are already so damaged that they’re willing to pay money for the proof of it.  I won’t believe that she left me until I see something concrete, but I can’t trust her either.  Will I be surprised when I’m finally confronted with the truth?  The ones who cling to false hope always are.
For me, Berry’s was always the story of a girl who had closed herself off from love, learning to open her heart to new possibilities, but it was important that she also recognize that there was no magic cure for her grief.  Time does not heal all wounds. Time can dull the edges, but the wound remains, a hole in the heart that never fully closes.  And, as Berry discovers, time sometimes makes things worse as memories start to slip away, until it’s hard to distinguish between what’s real and what is cobbled together from old photographs and videos. 
The woman in the picture has long brown hair and a slightly crooked smile. She looks exactly like I remember, but I can’t tell if it’s because she really looked like this or because all I have now are the pictures.  It’s as though all my memories are two-dimensional.
In Spies and Prejudice, Berry doesn’t get over the loss of her mother. That kind of loss is not something that can be overcome.  Berry’s grief is a part of her, but she does learn to accept it and finds the strength to risk her heart again: the strength to be vulnerable.

More on Grief: Check out Quotable RA, sometimes it is among the dying that we remember to live

About Talia Vance
Talia Vance is a practicing litigation attorney living in Northern California with her real life love interest, two-point-five kids, and a needy Saint Bernard named Huckleberry. Talia has been writing since she could talk, making up stories for every doll, stuffed animal and action figure she could get her hands on. She grew up hoping to write the great American novel, but her life ran more along the lines of tortured romance and fast paced thrillers, so that’s what she writes.


  1. I really loved this book and so have the teens I've given it to at the library!

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