Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Courage in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum is about the courage of a group of teenagers in Patience, a small town in East Texas. Ashley Asher, Roxanne Blake, Dub White, Z.Z. Freeman, Junior Alvarez, T.W. Griffin, and Kevin Cooper are classmates in the summer session of English II under Beverly Asher. Each teen is facing a truly life-altering challenge that requires them to say NO to fear.
The main character of Courage in Patience is fifteen-year-old Ashley. Most of the novel is in her voice. When the narrative shifts its focus to one of the other characters, a third person point of view is taken, but I did not find these shifts jarring. For six years Ashley was sexually abused by her stepfather Charlie Baker. When she finally has the courage to tell her mother, Cheryl Baker, about the abuse, her mother does not believe her. Child Protection Services then places Ashley in the care of her father David Asher and stepmother Beverly Asher. Living with her father, stepmother, and stepbrother Ben in Patience; starting therapy with Dr. Scott Matthews; and English II class help Ashley start to heal.
At the beginning of the novel, Ashley takes us through her six years in hell. But the novel does not focus on the abuse Ashley endured. In truth, I wish the novel had focused a bit more on the abuse, because I wanted to understand deeply the terror Ashley went through. The novel's focus is on the emotional effects of abuse and the road to recovery. Courage in Patience is an eye-opening read. Ashley suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and her pain, confusion, insecurities, and anger are very REAL. After reading Courage in Patience, I feel I have a much better understanding of what victims of sexual abuse feel and think and the healing process they must go through.
Courage in Patience is a story of hope for those who have endured abuse - and not just sexual abuse. Ashley and her English II classmates have experienced different kinds of abuse, ranging from emotional abuse and physical abuse to heartbreaking parental neglect and shocking racism. To make matters even worse, religious fundamentalists try to ban the novel they are discussing (and loving!) in English class: Ironman by Chris Crutcher. These conservative extremists are also trying to have their English teacher fired for assigning Ironman to the class. The way these amazing teen characters finally stand up to abuse and social injustice is inspiring.
It has been a while since I've read a novel as serious and important as Courage in Patience. (It is also enjoyable and very readable!) I am honestly grateful for Courage in Patience. I want to read it again because Beth Fehlbaum was able to successfully weave so many big themes into one thought-provoking story. Courage in Patience is an authentic exploration of emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, parental neglect, racism, censorship, and religious fundamentalism. More importantly, Courage in Patience is a necessary reminder that there is HOPE as long as we are not afraid to stand up for what is right.
I am so happy to host YA author Beth Fehlbaum at my blog! Welcome, Beth!
What kind of teen reader were you?
I always read "above" my age. I liked historical romance-- Kathleen E. Woodiwiss' books.
What inspired you to write Courage in Patience?
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In the course of treatment and through my recovery process, I have used writing as a way to work through feelings. After about a year of writing poems and short stories and sharing them with my therapist, he suggested that I write a novel. I played with it for about four months, stopping and starting. It was only when I pulled myself out of my own head and began to imagine another person's life that I was able to bring Ashley Nicole Asher, age 15, to life, and create a world for her, which became Courage in Patience.
What was it like writing Courage in Patience?
I wrote most of Courage in Patience in the middle of the night and on the weekends and holidays. Strangely, I did not feel all that tired the next day at school, because my mind was working overtime at story-weaving. I drew on my experiences as a teacher to create the character of Beverly, Ashley's stepmother who is a high school English teacher. I drew on my experiences of being an abuse survivor to communicate what it is like inside the mind of a person who has been sexually abused. Some of the scenes were very difficult to write. Chapter Two, and its depiction of Ashley's rape, took a very long time to write and was very emotional for me.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
From the start of writing the book to selling it, it took about one year. Then the editing and revising process took about four more months. Kunati, Inc., my publisher, is a small independent publisher based in Orangeville, Ontario. Kunati authors are expected to work extensively on their own behalf, and the publisher, Derek Armstrong, is a marketing expert. I sort of live a double life right now-- I teach all day then come home at night and do "author stuff"-- and go on my book tour on the weekends. It's pretty surreal, actually.
Kunati books are meant to be "Provocative. Bold. Controversial." What makes your book provocative, bold, and controversial?
Courage in Patience is provocative in that it will provoke discussion and thought- which is what it is intended to do. It is bold because it does not hide from the truth; in fact, the crux of Courage in Patience is that freedom is found through truth. And it may be controversial because some of its elements will make people uncomfortable-- as they should-- but it's also important to understand that the stuff that is hard to read in Courage in Patience is the everyday existence of millions of people.
Can you tell us about your work with abused children as an English teacher? How much did that experience influence your novel?
When Kunati first bought my book, I was not yet ready to identify myself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Out of consideration for me, my folks at Kunati attributed my expertise on the subject of child sexual abuse to my work with abused children. I know for a fact that I have worked with children who have endured all sorts of abuse-- all teachers have, because 1 in 4 children are sexually abused-- but I wrote the character of Beverly Asher more from my overall experience as a teacher of all children than as a teacher of abused children. All children-- all PEOPLE-- are the same in that they (we) all want to be loved and accepted for who they (we) are. That's a fundamental message in Courage in Patience.
I have an understanding of secondary English curriculum, because I taught middle school for much of my career. I majored in English and minored in Secondary Education. I based the characters in the summer school class on composites of students I have had over the years.
The back cover of your novel says that it is suitable for classroom study. How do you imagine Courage in Patience being used for classroom study?
With the themes of racism, censorship, religious dogma, abuse, forgiveness, social justice, bullying, honesty, respect, anger… there's plenty of discussion material in Courage in Patience. I have considered writing a Novel Unit to go along with the book, but I have not had time to do it yet. I think Courage in Patience would be a great novel to study in the classroom!
What do you want teens who have suffered abuse to take away from Courage in Patience? What do you want teens who have not suffered abuse to take away from the novel?
I hope that everyone who reads Courage in Patience will come away with the understanding that it is in truth that all people find freedom. It's not just an "abuse novel." There is a positive message in the group dynamic of the kids in the summer school class coming together and learning to embrace each other's differences. Nobody wants to face problems alone-- and Courage in Patience carries the message that people with problems are NOT alone.
If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Courage in Patience to be award-winning, or for Courage in Patience to be bestselling? Why?
Wow, what a fantastic question. No doubt about it- I would rather Courage in Patience be award-winning-- recognized by those who know and appreciate quality literature-- than best-selling. I mean, come on-- think about it-- among many fine books, there are also books that capitalize on the pain of real people on the best-seller list. Just because a book is a best-seller does not necessarily mean that it contributes to the betterment of people's lives, long-term.
What book would you like your work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact, popularity, sales, or awards)?
I would like my work to be on-par with Chris Crutcher's books, in terms of longevity and the awards he has received for his contributions to young adult literature. If I earn even a tenth of the recognition he has received, that would be very cool.
What advice do you have for teachers with students who have suffered abuse?
Teachers should always remember that they have the power to shape a child's life, for better or worse. We (teachers) need to communicate to our students very clearly that they matter and they have a person who cares about them as people-- not just as a warm body that takes up a seat for however long the class lasts. So, advice I would give to teachers would be to BE THERE for their students.
The Courage in Patience tour has stopped by many blogs and bookstores since July. What are some of your favorite experiences so far from the blog tour and in-person book signings?
I really like hearing from people who have read the book-- so it's very gratifying to stop by a blog and find people discussing Courage in Patience. With respect to the signings, one of my three daughters (ages 18, 20, and 22) always goes with me, and it's really cool, sharing the time with them and talking to people about my book. One thing that's neat at book signings is when men come up to my table and ask me what my book is about-- and I tell them-- and a few times, men have bought the book for their wives or girlfriends, because the wife or girlfriend has experienced abuse, and the guy hopes my book will help her.
What are you working on now?
I am working on the sequel to Courage in Patience. It's called Hope in Patience. The title comes from something a good friend once said to me: "Hope is the opposite of fear." I am already receiving letters from people who did not want Courage in Patience to end. They wanted to know more of Ashley's story. And I also need to find out how her story turns out in the end, so I'll be learning more about her life as I write it!
Thanks for hosting me, Tarie! I really appreciate it! I invite readers to stop by my website, http://www.courageinpatience.blogspot.com.
Thank you for stopping by Into the Wardrobe, Beth! Thank you for writing Courage in Patience. I am already looking forward to Hope in Patience! I, too, want to know how Ashley's story ends, and I want to learn more about her family and classmates/friends - her life - in Patience.