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The Reality of Unrealistic, a guest post by Emery Lee

“The Hulk is a giant green monster that sprouts out of this scientist when he gets angry, but the really messy part of this movie is the military uniforms. Look at them. They’re just not realistic!”

I’ll never forget that writing class I took back in college, but it wasn’t just because the professor had an amazing sense of humor and actually took the time to explain writing as a career. What resounds through my head to this day was the moment when she covered the “willing suspension of disbelief,” and all that that entailed.

We don’t pick up fiction because we want everything to be perfectly realistic. We pick it up for green monsters that destroy towns when a person gets angry and lovers who find each other despite not speaking in twenty years and dystopian governments that reduce every person to a career type. That is, we pick up fiction to see the deeper parts of reality cast back at us in a way that we know we’ll never really see in real life. It’s reality through a thin layer of film, through a filter that gives us just enough distance to make us comfortable.

I’ve often heard, “Sometimes fiction has to be more believable than reality.” That things happen all the time in real life that we’d never allow in fiction, things that are just a little too uncanny or corny or coincidental. Despite these occurrences being real, we as readers see them and think, “But would that ever really happen?” and refuse to suspend disbelief for them.

But when it comes to suspending disbelief, who gets the benefit of the doubt and who doesn’t? Why is marrying your first love realistic but running into someone you only know from the internet too convenient? Why is it realistic for a teenager to save the world from the apocalypse but too difficult to believe they might save a peer from bullies without any ulterior motive? Why is a green monster that destroys cities more believable than a military uniform with too many patches?

The more I questioned what people suspend disbelief for, the more I realized that there isn’t an answer. Why is a green monster that destroys cities more believable than a military uniform with too many patches? Well, simply put, it’s not. At least not for me. Maybe if I knew more about military uniforms and the significance of patches and exactly how likely it might be for a scientist to turn into a giant green monster, but being a writer with no military background who never took a science class voluntarily, one of these things definitely feels unrealistic to me, and no, it’s not that shoddily designed uniform.

We suspend disbelief all the time for things we know nothing about, but when it comes to things we think we know, that point of logic in the back of our heads flares up like a red light screaming “THAT’S NOT REALISTIC”. But how much do we know, and how much do we think we know?

Is it realistic for an Asian family to wear shoes inside the house? Is it realistic for an entire friend group to all be queer? Is it realistic for someone to have only dated trans people? To only have neurodivergent friends? To live in a Latinx-majority town in the deep South?

As an author who writes a lot of stories from my own experiences, I find most of the “that’s not realistic” comments I receive aren’t on the things I’ve taken creative liberty on. They’re from the things that draw directly from my experiences of navigating the world, making friends, mixing languages, navigating the internet.

So the question becomes, is this real thing that happened to me unrealistic or is it just something that the reader has no understanding of and therefore doesn’t know how to believe?

The way I read and write has transformed a lot since I first started branching out of my comfort zone with the authors that I pick up. The more diverse books I’ve read, the more I’ve come to realize that the way I see the world is just one way of seeing it. My way is no more real or insightful than any other. It’s simply that. My way.

And this has changed the way I talk about books and recommend books as well. Is a book “realistic”? Is it “relatable”? Is it more or less “authentic” based on my judgment of the book? Or is it a story that simply rings true for me, one that reflects my experience? One that reflects the way I see reality? I no longer use “relatable” or “authentic” as synonyms for “good”. I no longer consider them goals or even attainable. The fact of the matter is that anything that’s relatable is inherently not relatable to someone else. There is no universally relatable experience.

And so there is no universally relatable story. Especially within children’s fiction, it’s important that a wide range of experiences are being shared with all sorts of readers. Not just what’s “realistic” or “believable” to me or even what may seem “universally believable” based on what I know of the world, but all the marginalized or niche experiences of reality as well. Even if most people don’t understand the world the way I see it, that doesn’t mean my story doesn’t deserve to be told. That doesn’t mean that my reality isn’t real.

There is no such thing as an unrealistic reality, just a reality that some people are unwilling to accept.

And so it may be true that fiction is oftentimes more believable than reality, but that is in and of itself a show of how much we’ve failed to push the boundaries of fiction. If fiction can reflect mermaids and aliens and enemies who fall in love while trying to kill each other, it can also show teens that their reality exists, no matter how many people may try to insist it doesn’t. After all, fiction is the one place where literally anything is possible. If it tells teens that their own experiences are too unrealistic to put on paper, well, I think it’s about time we changed that.

Meet the author

Emery Lee is a kidlit author, artist, and YouTuber hailing from a mixed-racial background. After graduating with a degree in creative writing, e’s gone on to author novels, short stories, and webcomics. When away from reading and writing, you’ll most likely find em engaged in art or snuggling cute dogs.

Website: https://www.emeryleebooks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EmeryLeeWho

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/emeryleebooks/

About Meet Cute Diary

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.

ISBN-13: 9780063038837
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

WRITING YOUR OWN STORY (SORT OF), a guest post by Greg Howard

whispersLet me start by clearly stating that THE WHISPERS is first and foremost, a work of fiction. I’m reluctant to even call it semi-autobiographical. With that said, there’s no doubt that I left a lot of me on the page. Sort of.

 

When I first had the idea for this story, I thought a lot about my childhood—colorful family members, small towns in South Carolina where I grew up, the woods I explored with my buddies, those early school friends and bullies who leave a lifelong, indelible mark one’s psyche and memory. But I kept circling back a central missing puzzle piece of my youth—my mother.

 

 

My mother was a conspicuous and fundamental figure in my childhood even though she was absent for most of it. Why she wasn’t around isn’t as important as the fact that she was there in a monumental way in the beginning—when your attachments and developmental influences take root and form who you are as a person. She was a local beauty queen beloved by everyone, a steadfast pillar of the church community, a faithful wife and nurturing mother revered by other wives and mothers for her beauty inside and out. She was practically an angelic presence temporarily on loan from God to the good citizens of Georgetown, South Carolina. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Greg's mother

Greg’s mother

 

As I grew older and wiser (sort of), the more I realized that my memories of my mother were a mix of the authentic and the imagined—some created from faded Polaroids, others from family lore, but only a scattering from actual events and real-life moments. That’s why I consider the mother in THE WHISPERS to be a tribute to my mother, but also a fully fictionalized character.

A young Greg and his sister

A young Greg and his sister

To my main character, Riley, his mother is virtually his entire world and when she goes missing, he’s not only completely lost without her, but obsessive about finding her and bringing her home. The world as Riley knows it simply doesn’t work without her. His dad grows isolated and distant, his brother retreats from the family, his grandparents are despondent, and as a mama’s boy who finds himself suddenly without a mama, Riley feels as alone and acutely isolated as I did at his age.

 

Growing up a self-aware queer kid the rural deep South only added to my seclusion. It was time when you didn’t talk about such things, neither at home or at school, and certainly not at church. Preachers told me I was going to hell without even realizing (I hope) the oppressive guilt and shame they were imposing on an already sensitive, fragile kid. Authority figures seemed to know without question or a second thought that I was not normal. I never found myself in television, movies, or books, but only ever saw a romantic construct of love represented between a man and a woman. Even at that young age, I felt erased from society and reality. Compound that with the absence of my mother and you have one deeply confused, broken and lonely little boy.

 

That was my story, but through writing THE WHISPERS, it became Riley’s.

 

Sprinkling the seasoning of my life into THE WHISPERS was deeply satisfying, incredibly cathartic, and at times particularly painful. From Grandma’s fruit salad recipe, to the Pentecostal corn choir, to missing family photo albums and boyhood crushes, to camping trips in the woods, childhood trauma, a country market, nightmares so vivid I remember them to this day, and even to the greatest dog in the history of dogs, Tucker—I lent it all to Riley. And it was interesting to see with those same story ingredients borrowed from my life, how drastically his path diverged from my own.

 

I used to think of THE WHISPERS as my own story. But the longer I’m away from it, the more I consider it Riley’s story. Those are now his adventures, hopes, pains, dreams, struggles and triumphs. But I’m delighted that my real-life memories served Riley well and found a safe and evergreen place to land. Riley’s was a more fantastical journey than mine, but imagination was important to us both. Imagination was the vehicle of our escape to an alternate world. One full of hope. And in that small yet significant way, Riley and I share this story.

 

When writing fiction, I don’t believe you can truly write your own story. At some point the characters hijack it and make it their own, and that’s okay. So, now I can say with definitive clarity that THE WHISPERS is my own story. Sort of.

 

Meet Greg Howard

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

 

 

 

 Connect with Greg online:

Twitter: @greghowardbooks

Instagram: @greghowardbooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greghowardbooks/

 

About THE WHISPERS

whispersA middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

(ISBN-13: 9780525517498 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/15/2019)

CHECK BACK ON 1/15/2019 FOR AMANDA’S REVIEW OF THE WHISPERS