The Complex Journey Toward Resilience
My debut novel in verse, Reeni’s Turn (September 13, 2020) explores the complex nature of emotional resilience in this body positive story of a shy, self-conscious tween’s urgent search for courage, self-acceptance, and identity. Reeni makes a misdirected choice to embark on a diet that will supposedly “fix” her self-consciousness and fear about performing a solo. Her story is among the first for fourth and fifth graders that addresses the high percentage of diet experimentation among younger children of all sizes and shapes.
Even now, with a growing weight inclusive, body positive movement, the not-so-subtle bias against fat still pervades the culture in which we live. As an author and clinical social worker, I felt strongly about exploring the vulnerable time before eating disorders take hold, when children begin to disparage their changing bodies and experiment with diets. The disordered eating that results can lead to later eating disorders. Reeni has a rough time of it before discovering her way “home”. But rough times are not unusual as tweens transition to adolescence.
Reeni’s Turn is a book that will spark a variety of meaningful conversations with young people about body image, fitting in, problem-solving, peer pressure, and more. The story reflects social emotional competencies such as self-awareness, self-regulation, decision-making, peer/cultural pressure, and parental relationships that overlap with competencies of emotional resilience—my favorite topic. But as Reeni’s story demonstrates, internal and external factors may impact and challenge emotional resilience.
Reeni’s story has been with me since my own childhood, when I learned the incorrect information that happiness with who I was as a person was intricately interwoven with the size and shape of my body. I grew up in a time when ‘fat’ was unquestionably an insult, and weight inclusive, body positive work was unknown.
Reeni’s story is not my own, although some details and touchpoints come from memory and experience. As a clinical social worker, many of the adult women with whom I worked traced discomfort with their bodies and food to their tween years, as bodies develop and change. They recalled themselves as young children without body and eating concerns who began the pattern of negative self-talk, dieting, and disordered eating as their bodies began the normal growth and development of puberty.
My Reeni’s Turn challenge? I had to reflect these realities in the context of an engaging middle grade story, but with the knowledge that these concerns can become all-consuming. My character’s physical and emotional well-being had to suffer. She could not simply “bounce back” quickly against the antagonist in the story—the diet culture that pressures young children to change their eating and their bodies.
As Reeni’s strengths of self-awareness, creativity, aspects of her Jewish faith, and emotional regulation wane, her resilience and persistence temporarily slump. But she gradually recovers her strengths and faces the choice between fear and her passion head on. It is important for Reeni’s diet experimentation to be authentic, but I also wanted her joy, passion, determination, spirituality, and closeness with her family and friend to shine, support, and guide her.
Only after the final draft was long-submitted did I discover that Reeni’s complex journey toward resilience reflected my own process during the years spent writing her story. My vulnerabilities, small successes, and failures emotionally paralleled Reeni’s. My reach for reliable strengths, and my discovery of as-yet unpracticed ones, echoed hers. Together, we had navigated a daunting, but persistent, creative and ultimately triumphant journey.
Reeni’s Turn will ignite meaningful middle grade conversations about multiple issues as my character learns the hard way to redirect her strengths to self-acceptance and the ability to take a chance with her dream. (Guidelines for classroom and small group conversations will be posted on my website on launch day.) Her resilience and her spirit shine as she discovers the secret of courage and self-acceptance. And her readers will do so along with her.
Carol Coven Grannick writes middle grade fiction, early childhood poetry, and chronicles that explore and support the emotional lives of writers. She loves and looks forward to energetic conversations with young people about Reeni’s Turn. Her children’s work has appeared and is forthcoming in Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, Hello, and Hunger Mountain, and her adult poetry, essays, and articles have been published in numerous literary journals, blogs, and online magazines. Visit her at carolcovengrannick.com