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Fun fact: plane crashes are roughly 80% survivable.
MAYDAY, the latest from local author Karen Harrington (Janeology, Courage for Beginners and Sure Signs of Crazy) begins with a catastrophic crash that leaves Wayne Kovok temporarily mute. And he’s got to go to middle school. MAYDAY not only exposes the trials of every middle school kid, but explores notions of military service and family ties. Plus, Wayne’s quest to find out what he’s made of takes place mostly in Plano, on the streets we drive every day. Funny and touching, MAYDAY is about growing up right here, a story every middle schooler should read.
Are there any specific places in Plano that appear in MAYDAY? Where’s his house?
Wayne’s home is very near my neighborhood, where two neighborhoods overlap. One is a homeowner’s association where it’s pristine and there’s nothing on the curbs … and then the other neighborhood is more like the neighborhood that I grew up in: Every house is different, some lawns aren’t mowed, there are Christmas decorations left up long after Christmas. That’s a street I drive down all the time.
How do you prepare to write from the perspective of a middle schooler?
I remember middle school so well, both really positive things and really negative things…. I remember feeling that aloneness, that separateness.
One day, while I was writing Courage for Beginners, I wanted to eat lunch at a Plano school cafeteria to see if it was as I remembered it. I had a friend who had a daughter in school who said she’d meet me there. But she forgot to meet me. So I was there with my lunch just standing around, and I was back in time, having that familiar feeling of people just walking past—but as an adult.
There was a separate table where I noticed there were kids that were not engaged with others, that were either in a book or were on their phones. [Editor’s note: That becomes Courage for Beginner’s “Loser Island,” a place where the misfits come together, and where Wayne’s group of friends sit.]
What do you love about writing for this age group?
What I love about this age group that I’m seeing firsthand is that you’re just becoming aware of the world but you’re still very innocent and you still want to play…. It’s a balance and it forms you in so many ways. It’s your first time to get disappointed by adults, disappointed by life, but at the same time, you have more freedom and more responsibilities. I love that age for that reason, because it’s hard to straddle that line.
Now that I am here, it’s really wonderful because these are the stories that I loved growing up. Really good stories that don’t have a lot of profanity or a lot of violence but are about serious topics. I’m channelling my inner 12-year-old in a really cool way!
Wayne often wrestles with his family’s proud military history, a history you yourself share. What does that military connection mean to you?
There’s just something about what that represents: the best of America. I always grew up knowing that I have really cool people in my past, people that have done a lot of military service. And I’m connected to them by virtue of the family line. It’s an empowering feeling. As a young person, I didn’t realize that, but looking back now, hearing their stories… there’s a sense of pride, that I’m connected to something larger.
What one message do you hope young readers take away from MAYDAY?
In middle school, you can get stuck in one lane if you are always trying to fit in, not venturing out, not listening to your own instinct. That’s why having your voice, using your voice is so important or else others will decide who you are and what you should be. That’s what Wayne Kovok learned.
For more on Karen, visit karenharringtonbooks.com.