When I was in middle school, the word “nerd” was thrown around a lot, a word that then meant someone who was too much, who loved something too deeply. It was also a word that described me very well–a girl who enjoyed her hobbies with an abandon that was considered by other students to be a bit too much.
This passion was a delicate flame within me when I was 14, a little older than Elissa, the protagonist of my novel, We Are the Song. Middle school was scary. Those who were weird or too loud or too much; they were left out, whispered about, laughed at. I was torn, then. Part of me wanted to live in bold colors, to wear my “hipster” hat to school, to be bold about my love for telling stories and reading books. But I was afraid, too; of the teasing, of being different, of getting side eye stares and jeers from the popular kids.
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Despite that fear, despite the pressure all around me, urging me to not be too weird or too enthusiastic, that flame within me didn’t die–it grew. And it was largely thanks to the adults in my life at that time.
The high school senior who left me an encouraging note in my locker after I competed in a school poetry slam. The English teacher who told me in the first place that I was good. Good enough to compete as a middle schooler – and then win. My seventh grade teacher giving me feedback after school on the pages of my very first novel. The teachers who encouraged me, showed up for my writing and every poetry slam I read at.
I think, too, of my friends at lunch time, reading over my shoulder and begging for more of my stories as I wrote them.
Who could I have become without these people protecting me and this spark of creativity and excitement inside of me? It’s thanks to them that I was able to hold fast to my love of writing, despite the ups and downs, the rejections, the critiques that hit a little too close to my heart. It’s thanks to them that I was able to write and rewrite and persevere for over fourteen years… to finally get to hold one of my stories in my hands.
And now, as an author, as a children’s author especially, I have the unique honor of keeping this flame burning in my readers. For one, I can share my journey with them, point to joyful, exuberant, eighth grade Catherine and say, Don’t give up. More than that, I hope that I can encourage them to see how beautiful this spark within them is.
Every step of the way as I worked on this book, I found that message of leaning into my passions repeated again and again. My editor once asked me what inspired the setting of the story and the music itself, and I sheepishly admitted that I was a huge fan of the baroque era, the music, the clothing, the details. Her eyes lit up, and she asked me for more of that, that I pour in even more of my enthusiasm and nerdiness for history into the story. I went to the library with a grin on my face as I picked up a pile of books for researching.
As I wrote, I also remembered a day in middle school. I was singing in our choir, my heart so full, music zipping through me, that I emoted along to the song with all the gusto of a Broadway singer. I also remember that across the room, a girl was mimicking me, mocking me, with her friend. The joy drained from me, and I remember the cold shame that filled me up in its place.
But I didn’t stop singing. I’m grateful I didn’t. Years later, during a dark period of my life, one of the brightest parts of my week was getting to sing in a choir alongside my mom. The way all of our voices came together, the power of it–there was something magical, divine about it, that gave me the little spark of an idea that became We Are the Song.
This novel is about a lot of things – trusting others, faith in God; faith in one’s self – but it’s also about a young girl who just really, really loves music.
She lives for it. Breathes music. She muses about the beauty of a tangle of notes in harmony; she feels a divine thrill when she pens down notes of her own, and the act of singing, even when it’s imperfect, fills her with unmatchable joy.
It’s no secret that Elissa and I have that in common. We Are the Song is full of references to various operas and settings are named after musical terms. As Elissa composed her songs, I was jamming out to baroque music on full blast.
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So I think about the kids I want to share my book with. The ones who burn with love for their favorite book or band or hobby; the kids who might be bullied for that very passion. I hope that they see themselves in Elissa. I hope that maybe they’ll want to explore music more; try a new activity, or try writing a story of their own. I hope they’ll find a safe place to foster the blooming of their creativity the way my community did.
If I’m lucky, I hope my novel will help keep their flame of excitement, of love, of hope for this world around them, alive.
Meet the author
Catherine Bakewell is a fantasy writer of Middle Grade and Young Adult books. She has lived in Spain and in France, where she romped through gardens, ate pastries, and worked on her novels. She is represented by Jordan Hamessley at New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc. https://www.instagram.com/catbake/
About We Are the Song
A lush and beautiful fantasy set in a world where music is magic and the fate of many thrones lies with one girl…
Twelve-year-old Elissa has been raised in seclusion as a devotee of the Mother Goddess. She is a special child, a blessed child, a child who can sing miracles into being. Her voice can heal wounds, halt landslides, cure hunger—and even end wars.
But there are those who would use her gift for darker things. And when Elissa finds herself the farthest from home she’s ever been—along with her vain and jealous music tutor, Lucio—she will have to develop the judgment to decide who wants to use her song to heal… and who wants to use her song to hurt.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 05/03/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post