readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November Feature: The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand

Are you ready to wade across The River? This intriguing novel by Mary Jane Beaufrand is one of this month's recommended titles. Take a peek:

Veronica Severance feels cut off from the world. Forced to move from the city to rural Oregon with her parents, she is haunted by loneliness and by the chilling sounds of the Santiam, the river that runs through her backyard.

Through the fog of isolation, Ronnie finds herself becoming close with Karen, a young girl who she babysits. But when she discovers Karen's body on the banks of the Santiam, the victim of a supposed accident, Ronnie feels compelled to uncover the truth.

As she becomes increasingly obsessed with solving Karen's death, Ronnie is led deeper and deeper into the woods surrounding the river and to the dark secret hidden within its midst.

Mary Jane Beaufrand, the author of The River, shared this deeply personal story with us:

My sister Ann is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 2007, has been in remission since 2008. But recently, a full two years being pronounced healthy, she had herself a good freakout.

Here’s the sitch: she wanted to swim laps at the Open Swim Hour at her local high school, and didn’t want to be seen changing in the girls’ locker room. The problem? The scars from her bilateral mastectomy. Don’t get me wrong—she had reconstructive surgery, so from five paces away she looks perfectly normal. But that scrawny hairline scar still stretches from one side of her ribcage to the other. Uber-dramatic up close. Like in a locker room.

“Girls that age just don’t understand,” she told me. “They still think you can be perfect.”

I nodded and made noises like I agreed, but five minutes after I left her, realized that she was dreading the judgment of teenage girls as much as she dreaded chemo. Huh. Something was definitely off.

I kept going back our conversation when Readergirlz asked me to blog about resilience. Believe me, I’d much rather write about things that invoke a different kind of response, like moose drool. Or donuts. (Or, as my daughter would add, moose drool *on* donuts. She gets a kick out of stuff like that.)

But it seems to me there’s a nugget in my sister’s dread that’s worth exploring. Because I think the issue of teenage judgment—both real and imagined—has more to do with resilience than it would first appear. I’m thinking of my sister’s scars, but I’m also thinking of Spirit Day this past October 20, and the glut of teen suicides in the wake of bullying. When I was listening to NPR last week, a commentator was talking about this subject and mentioned that, while some of the bullied suicides were gay, not all of them were. The common denominator was that they were perceived to be different.

It seems to me that a major component of resilience is tolerance, both in yourself and the people around you. If you’re going through an episode in your life where you have to be strong, it’s important to find someone who, if they can’t identify with what you’re going through, can at least imagine going through it. Those tolerant, understanding buddies? They may not be the ones you think.

In The River, my heroine, Veronica Severance, makes a series of mistakes along those lines. At the beginning of the book, she’s judgmental of the people around her, thinking that since she’s a transplant from the city, she’s better than her neighbors in the country. Ya-huh. You just know attitude can’t continue.
Secondly, she’s drawn to people based on the way they dress and their taste in music. And yes, in real life those things can really endear someone to you, but they don’t go deep enough to tell you about their true character. It’s no accident that, in order to see the truth about the people around her, Veronica has to be submerged in something that’s much more treacherous than it looks on the surface. Surfaces can lie.

So that’s about it. If you’re in need of resilience, I’m with you. Stay strong. Practice tolerance and seek out tolerant buddies. Veronica’s mother would also tell you that comfort food helps, and to be sure to enjoy a donut now and then.
But please, for my sake, hold the moose drool.

- Mary Jane Beaufrand

Now we want to hear from you. What did Veronica learn about truth and treachery? Have you ever heard a secret that you wish you hadn't? If you were in Veronica's shoes, would you have acted the same way she did? Leave your comments below!


Jax said...

I read this quite awhile ago.. I loved it. Hope you enjoyed it just as much. It was a very intense story.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

I haven't read it yet and must! I loved Mary's voice and message in this post. Thank you for the charge!

Little Willow said...

Thank you for sharing this with us, Mary Jane Beaufrand!

Unknown said...

Your story about your sister worrying about being judged struck home with me. I think our teenage selves are always with us, no matter how old we are, as I discovered when I started working at a coed high school (after years at a boys' school) and found myself worrying about being judged by the A-List girls--again! I'd thought I was way past that, but apparently resilience is not a trait, but a skill that requires constant practice. Thanks for your insightful remarks! --RCM

Melissa Walker said...

"resilience is not a trait, but a skill that requires constant practice"

Yes, RCM! This really made me think, and gave me hope that it can be developed, day by day, situation by situation.

I can't wait to read THE RIVER.

Unknown said...

Wow, Mary Jane-- very moving and thought-provoking.
A blog I follow (averagefantastic) just posted this Eleanor Roosevelt quotation: “I think somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.”
Teens are going through big changes, so sometimes it feels harder to understand who they are themselves.
Even as adults, I think big events (like cancer, grief, job changes, motherhood) redefine who we are so we need to make that decision about who we are anew. Again we need that resilience and self-tolerance while we adjust our concept of self and learn to love ourselves as we are.

Unknown said...

The River is one of my favorite books of the year.

I've been thinking about this post, and how we will always be connected to our teenaged selves, no matter how far removed those years are. Perhaps that is why I still love the literature for the age. I still relate to it.

That's also the reason I have yet to attend a high school reunion; I fear facing those same girls. They are always there-I just do my best not to let them in.

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