Thursday, June 25, 2015

Interview with _Until I'm Safe_ author Jane Grace

Until I'm Safe by Jane Grace
Print Length: 234 pages
ISBN: 1680460862
Publisher: Fire and Ice Young Adult Books; First edition (May 7, 2015)

Book Description:
Does she stay and possibly get shot by her crazed father or run into the storm of the century, Hurricane Katrina?

Marguerite Aucoin has no choice but to run! Like the fiction heroine she writes about, a teen named Toots Gentry, Marguerite must be brave, despite the fact she’s lost both hearing aids and is virtually deaf.

Amand rescues Marguerite from the swirling bayou waters. At his home, she awakes but doesn’t speak, writing her name, Toots Gentry. With time, he learns her secrets, and discovers someone’s trying to kill her. But’s he’s fallen in love with Marguerite and is determined to protect her.

Fence near Hurricane Katrina Memorial
I purchased Until I’m Safe last month and was pretty excited about it for a few reasons. For starters, the main character 17-years-old Marguerite is an African-American deaf character. Aside from Jacqueline Woodson’s secondary character Sean in Feathers (2007) and Kief Hillsbery's Radboy in War Boy (2000), I haven’t found any more African-American characters that are deaf in adolescent literature. And, Marguerite is the first female African-American deaf character that I’ve ever found in adolescent literature!

Hurricane Katrina Memorial
Another reason I was excited about this book is that I visited New Orleans in April and then again in June this year. Both times I visited the Hurricane Katrina Memorial. The memorial is located in a cemetery that was originally opened by Charity hospital in 1848 and was known as Potter’s Field since it was historically used for the poor, unclaimed bodies and those suffering from various epidemics (e.g. yellow fever). These individuals were brought to Charity to be buried in unmarked graves and at times of great illness that overtook the city, the individuals were buried in mass graves. Estimates vary about how many are actually buried here. The range includes between 100,000 and 150,000 souls. This is also one of the few New Orleans cemeteries where all are buried underground, as opposed to above ground mausoleums. Four years after the hurricane, the Katrina Memorial was built on the site of this hospital. With this addition, Charity Hospital now includes several tombs, which hold the remains of those individuals who were not identified from the hurricane in 2005. Having this experience really added to my reading of the novel.

Hurricane Katrina Memorial, New Orleans
In Until I'm Safe, Marguerite is an oral deaf character who uses hearing aids. She uses lip-reading to communicate and explains, “Mama and Daddy never believed in me learning sign language” (p. 149). The story begins at the beginning of Hurricane Katrina and Marguerite’s seventeenth birthday. After a serious family situation which I won’t go into detail about because I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, her sister Desia encourages/demands that Marguerite leave the house to seek help from their uncle.

Along the way, Marguerite loses her hearing aids and meets a lab she names Patronus (Marguerite takes Latin in school and knows that this means *protector*). Just when Marguerite thinks she has reached help she realizes that her uncle, like most others from the neighborhood, has evacuated New Orleans. She continues on her journey when even more disaster happens. Two kind souls rescue her but because she is scared and uncertain whom to trust, she gives the name Toots Gentry, a fictional character from the stories she writes and publishes in Teen Ink Magazine. She also says that she’s deaf instead of hard of hearing and pretends that she’s unable to speak or follow what the family is saying. Because of this, many of the characters communicate with Marguerite through writing.

The story is full of surprises and adventures. It also includes a bit of voodoo which adds an interesting plot point to the story. There is also a love story that doesn’t get too racy but as always if you’re recommending this book be sure to read it first.

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview YA author Jane Grace. In the picture you can see her with her own dog named Summer. I completely forgot to follow-up and ask questions about Patronus but it seems Ms. Grace is a fan of pups!
Summer & author Jane Grace

**********Read below for my interview with Jane Grace**********

SP: What inspired you to include a Hard-of-Hearing character like Marguerite in your novel?
JG: Those of us who watched the drama of Katrina unfold on TV saw the looting and rescue, mayhem and miracles. But I wanted a heroine that walked just outside that line of Katrina, near but not in the immediate situation. Therefore she flees the New Orleans area, headed for safety. However it's not enough to put your heroine in danger; she must have other odds to overcome, fears to face on a personal level. As a teacher, my junior high students often included deaf or hard of hearing students. I have no idea just when the thought came to me that my heroine Marguerite should be such a young woman. But once the idea was born, the whole novel plot fell into place. 

SP: What research did you do to make the character believable?
JG:  I read about those with hearing impairments and recalled the accommodations we did for my students. My editor has a hard of hearing daughter and she advised me on a few points…To be honest, at any point where I wasn't certain how my character should act, I recalled one of my deaf students who had an interpreter and one of my hard of hearing students who often waited too long to get new batteries in her aids so we endured a class of squeaks and mechanic sounds until she did. As for making a seventeen year old girl believable, I not only worked with 13--15 year olds but my students in high school next door often visited. So developing the personality of a 17 year old came a little easier than it might for someone else. 

SP: What research did you do in connection with Hurricane Katrina?
JG: Here I had to do a lot of research to make my time line correct. I studied weather events and wind as well as sea levels. I contacted a reporter who worked in Morgan City during Katrina and got her first hand insight into conditions there. Any mis-directions or mis-information in the story related to Katrina or the Morgan City community are entirely mine. I live 100 miles inland from Galveston Island in Texas where Hurricane Ike entered in 2008. I've lived in the path of hurricanes all my life. 

SP: What do you hope that readers will take away or learn from Until I’m Safe?
JG: First of all, that a person is often stronger than he or she thinks, disabled or not. Being brave often involves nothing more than creativity and patience. Second, safety is where you find it, not where you think it might be. Once you feel safe, your heart will let you know. I want readers to see how those of varied ages and backgrounds can grow into a family, even if there's no blood connection. And last, love means fighting on another day or ending your days in a sacrifice willingly given. Love keeps a person safe. 

SP: What advice do you have for young readers?
JG: If you enjoy reading, keep doing it! The more you read the better you become. If you love to write stories, even little short ones, then keep doing that. The more you write, the better you become. If you enjoy doing something positive and creative then continue, for some day you may share your passion with others. 

SP:  Anything you'd like to add?
JG: Writing this story became a labor of love. I still smile at all the right spots and cry at those that touch my heart. I can only hope the reader enjoys the story as much and comes away mindful of those who can't hear, how they must adapt to a world that hears. In other words, it takes all of us to make the world go around. 

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