How many times in your life do you get to reinvent yourself? To leave behind your past and become the person you really want to be?
For some of us, it can happen when we move to a new place or switch schools. Sometimes it’s a goal we set for ourselves, like by the end of this summer you’d like to eat healthier, spend more time with those you love, learn a new skill, be happier. For writers, sometimes we want to create a novel with an entirely different voice, or in a new genre…like I did when I wrote my newest novel Drawn, a paranormal about an artist who channels a hot ghost with a sketchy past. Pretty different from my earlier contemporary YA novels What I Meant… and Over My Head. Writing aside, when it comes to do overs in your own life, maybe you simply decide that this is the moment when you will make a BIG change. To alter the course of your future. Yet sometimes that seems impossible. Sometimes your past gets in the way.
In Drawn, Michelle longs to escape her past and have a fresh start. As she says in this early scene from the book:
The two of us have only been in England for a few days, yet I’m already convinced it’s the best place in the universe. Not because of the quaint little shops or everyone’s adorable English accent, or even because of this supposedly grand castle on the edge of town. No. This place is perfect because here no one knows that back in New Jersey my family, the De Freccio’s, are called the De Freak-o’s.
Back in New Jersey, Michelle’s mother was an eccentric psychic who suddenly up and left the family without a trace. And her brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic. And Michelle had been friendless, an outcast. But in England, she hopes for a new life. A normal one.
Honestly, while writing Drawn I could really identify with Michelle’s do over moment. In elementary school a bunch of snotty girls used to push me around during recess, and it crushed my spirit. So in middle school, where lots of new kids filled the classrooms, it looked like a clear do-over moment to me.
But reputations tend to cling to a person, so it was pretty rocky for me at first. Those nasty kids still were in my school, even though their power was now diluted. Still I was too self-conscious and too worried about what I said and wore and how people looked at me.
Now looking back I can see the real problem wasn’t those girls, it was what I carried inside myself: the loser image I wanted to ditch, but that on some level I’d bought into. What if they were right about me?
In the novel, Michelle may have left her past behind, but her insecurities have come along for the ride:
I get that familiar hot burn of humiliation. I always felt it whenever someone back in New Jersey would pull a trick on me, convincing me that I really was invited to a party, or that science class was actually meeting out near the woods on the edge of school grounds. I discovered I was an easy mark. Too trusting, too eager for friends.
I’d promised myself that those days were over. But here, an ocean away from New Jersey, it’s starting all over again. It’s like I’ve got a permanent “KICK ME” note stuck on my back.
Luckily for me, by the end of middle school I did have friends. I was liked. I remember wondering, why? It mystified me. Wasn’t I the same person who was so looked down on earlier?
In the novel, when things start looking up for Michelle, it mystifies her too:
I sigh, realizing I’ve disappointed my friends. I blink a few times, as this all sinks in. I’ve just turned down an “in” with the popular kids. And I actually have friends. It seems that by simply moving to a new place, I’ve somehow climbed out of my social wasteland. I think of all the high school kids in the world who are teased and shunned. They should all have the chance to move and start over—kind of like a witness protection program, but for outcasts.
Actually, I believe there is a sort of relocation program for anyone who needs it. And you don’t need an airline ticket to England to get there. It’s not a place, but a state of mind deep within ourselves. Michelle started to have friends not because she moved but because she had already begun to change inside. To trust others and have more faith in herself. She truly wasn’t that same person anymore. And that’s what happened to me, too, in a way. I’d started to genuinely feel good about myself and to open up to people more and that made all the difference.
Of course nothing is simple, and real change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and DING! Everything is all butterflies and happy songs. It takes time to gain inner strength and for those better choices in what you do and who you hang out with to all gel and reshape your days into the life you truly want. For me, it was a process of feeling better about myself and discovering what was most important to me. It did take time, but by the end of high school I felt like really strong, really happy.
In the book, not all Michelle’s new friends are good ones. And her life is NOT easy, especially after the appearance of Christopher who is either a delusion or a ghost. This definitely spells trouble for a girl trying very hard to blend in. And it forces her to wonder about who she really wants to be. And what she should truly believe in.
She comes to learn she can’t control how others feel, only how she feels. And in the end she must choose whether or not to believe in Christopher, a spirit who may or may not be a murderer. Who may or may not love her back. His life, their love, and Michelle’s hope all hang in the balance.
Michelle does a lot of incredibly brave things in the book, but to me, she is most courageous when she owns up to this:
Maybe I am a fool. Maybe Christopher doesn’t love me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in love with him…
It’s a huge risk, trusting that this is enough. And it propels Michelle into a life threatening struggle where she puts everything on the line. But in the end, trusting her own feelings opens Michelle up to true friendship and to true love.
Taking risks and believing in yourself. It’s the bravest thing you can ever do, and what do overs are all about. So believe!