In my work as a child & adolescent psychiatrist, it is not uncommon for families to present with a lack of understanding of the nature of their child or teen's suffering and vulnerability. They love their child or teen and want to help him or her feel better but they might be stuck in patterns of enabling, blame, intolerance, or judgement. And those patterns often get placed on me while I’m leading them in family therapy. I don't expect everyone to like me or like the recommendations I make. But only by pointing out deeply ingrained dysfunctional patterns despite the tension in the room can I hope to foster true healing for the patient and the family. So, I take a deep breath, thicken my skin and keep trying to facilitate open-mindedness to change.
And I've discovered that it is the same way with my adventure in writing YA fiction. Sometimes people are stuck in valuing writing only if it's done in a style they've been conditioned to admire and respect. I don't expect everyone to like what I write. But only by pointing out that there can be deeply ingrained bias in what is expected from authors can I hope to make noteworthy contributions to diversity in the YA fiction world. Only by pointing out my encounters with lack of understanding, intolerance, and judgement of Rani (the sixteen-year-old protagonist in Rani Patel In Full Effect) can I hope to press the importance of differences in voice, perspective, and experience. Rani’s a brown girl growing up on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific. Her voice is angry and unconfident. Her perspective is narrow based on loss of connection with her mother and her Gujarati culture, but she’s found some protection in her deep connection with hip hop culture. She’s also a survivor of chronic covert and overt incest. I’ve provided psychiatric treatment to teens who think, feel, talk, or act similarly to Rani. To say Rani’s dumb, naive, one dimensional, asking for it, or doesn’t speak intelligently is to minimize the biologic effects of trauma. And that, from my point of view, not only shows a lack of understanding of trauma, but also reveals intolerance, judgment, and lack of empathy. To write her story with big flowery, fancy words and sentences would perhaps be more like the experience of a white girl in suburbia, or a brown girl with the privilege of family stability not afforded to Rani.
As Rani would say, haters gonna hate. And meanwhile, I’ll take a deep breath, thicken my skin, and keep writing.