Today, I’m joined by Laurie B. Levine.
Laurie is the debut novelist of Now I Know It’s Not My Fault (CreateSpace)—a YA story largely informed by her experiences as a family therapist. She has a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Syracuse University, and is Clinical Fellow in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Laurie has been in private practice, helping people understand their trauma stories, for more than twenty years. She makes her home in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and three children.
Praise for Now I Know It’s Not My Fault:
“Alex is the articulate, first-person narrator of the tale; readers experience her obsession and emotional deconstruction from the inside … [Levine’s] deep understanding of ‘grooming’ behavior…helps her to create a character that jumps off the page.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Now I Know It’s Not My Fault is a thoroughly absorbing and cautionary tale that reminds us of the vulnerability of our children, the power of those in positions of authority, and the complex nature of abuse. It’s an important read for teens, parents, and mental health professionals.”–Lauren Meisels, Ph.D.
From the publisher:
Alexandra Geller is a bright, underachieving fourteen-year-old coming of age in the big hair 1980’s. Alex is from an accomplished, well-educated family. The sudden death of her mother five years ago, and her relationship with her well-meaning but emotionally unavailable father, leaves her unmoored and vulnerable as she tries to figure out who she is. Early in her freshman year, she’s befriended by Paula Hanover, a young, attractive science teacher at her high school. Paula’s irreverence and charm attracts the attention of the girls, who look up to her, and the boys, who have crushes on her. Alex is thrilled to be chosen by this woman and relishes the feeling of finally “belonging” to a mother figure. Paula’s intentions aren’t so benevolent, as she slowly and carefully draws Alex into a relationship designed to meet her own needs, not Alex’s. Desperate for maternal attention, Alex finds ways to ignore the vague sense that something is wrong. Her compelling story sheds light on a common, but rarely talked about kind of trauma which is subtle, and occurs under the radar.
Now, Laurie reveals the facts behind her fiction …
John Valeri: What inspired you to write Now I Know It’s Not My Fault – and how did the creative process compare to your expectations?
Laurie Levine: There were two objectives for me in writing this book. The first was to shed some light on the fact that women can be abusers too. There’s a lot written in abuse and trauma literature addressing men as abusers, but very little about women. I wanted to write a story that depicts an attractive, charming woman in that role. The second was to draw attention to a subtle form of abuse, called sexualization. When most people think about child sexual abuse, they think about an adult engaging in direct sexual contact with a child. Now I Know It’s Not My Fault highlights a kind of abuse that occurs under the radar, but can be just as damaging.
The creative process was challenging and rewarding. I’ve written lots of academic articles, book chapters and papers but I had never written fiction. So, a big piece of the process was learning how to write in that way. The idea of a writer showing, rather than telling, was hard for me, coming from an academic background. Academic writing is all about telling. As I moved through the process, I found my voice as a novelist. That was very rewarding.
JV: How did your background in Marriage and Family inform this novel – and how did you endeavor to balance entertaining readers with educating them?
LL: My training and experiences as a therapist are a big piece of this story. I’ve worked with people who have trauma histories for 25 years. The book isn’t based on any of these stories in particular, but it draws on all of that experience. Abusive relationships are complicated, and obviously damaging, so understanding those dynamics is a big part of the book.
My hope is that as people read Alex’s story, they will see how Paula pulls her into the relationship and then keeps her in it. Readers will learn a little about how kids can be vulnerable and taken advantage of by a dangerous adult.
JV: Speaking of readers, what are the unique challenges and liberties of writing for a young adult audience – and how do you hope that this book might speak to victims, abusers, and advocates?
LL: One of the challenges of writing for young adults is making the story relatable, and making Alex believable as a character. I didn’t want to scare anyone off, kids or parents with the content of the story. So I tried to make Alex very much like a typical teenager even though her life circumstances maybe more challenging than another kid’s. It helped that my older daughter was fourteen while I was writing. She and her friends helped me remember how teenagers think, how they talk to each other and how they deal with adults.
JV: Tell us about your protagonist, Alex. How is she a composite of real-life teenagers – and what circumstances make her particularly vulnerable to predators?
LL: Alex faces many of the thing typical teenage girls face—grades, boyfriends, pleasing parents, etc. In some ways, Alex is lucky. Her family is financially stable, she’s well-cared for physically, and she has good friends. There are a several things that make her vulnerable though. One is that she’s growing up without her mother or a mother figure, until she meets Paula. She also feels guilty much of the time, a feeling that’s caused by a variety of things in her life—her mother yelling at her the day she died, feeling like she’s a constant disappointment to her father, and not being able to remember her mother clearly. Paula picks up on Alex’s vulnerability early on, even before we see it in the story, and uses it to her advantage.
JV: The plot is imaginary, but grounded in fact. Why is fiction an appealing vehicle for exploring true-to-life social issues – and how important is it to achieve a sense of realism?
LL: Telling this story as a case study or in some other nonfiction way would be too much for readers. People don’t want to spend a lot of time hearing about a real kid who was abused. It’s too sad and hard. Telling a story like this in a fictional way, creates some distance between the story and the reader’s reality. They can read it, and feel whatever they feel without worrying that there’s some real kid out there who really had this happen. It also gives the reader space to see themselves in the characters.
With thanks to Laurie B. Levine for her generosity of time and thought and to Larissa Ackerman of Claire McKinneyPR, LLC for facilitating this interview.