Few challenges are as disheartening as not being able to communicate effectively, and when a child doesn’t feel heard or understood by her parents, it can be downright debilitating, setting the stage for a lifetime of self-doubt.
In local author Laura Stegman’s debut middle-grade novel “Summer of L.U.C.K.,” we meet three preteens fighting to find their voices – and a sense of self-confidence. Darby has a stutter, and while her dad is gentle and accepting, her mom regards the speech impediment as a personal affront.
“Have you been practicing your breathing?” her mother demanded. …You’ll need sharp communication skills to get anywhere.
Queasy with mortification over what struck her as just another warning that stuttering meant she’d never be successful like her parents, Darby had left most of her meal untouched.
Indeed, such judgment can turn the steeliest of stomachs and drive a person to silence. Darby finds solace in the swimming pool, where she can blot out her mother’s critical tone and let the sound of water fill her ears.
Luckily, she also finds solace and friendship at summer camp, where she meets the two other main characters who are also, Stegman says, “longing to believe in themselves.” Justin stopped talking when his dad died and Naz is struggling to learn English. At summer camp, these three adolescents are drawn to the sound of calliope music from a nearby abandoned warehouse. When they enter, it turns into a magical carnival and they are granted the power to communicate without words. They meet a ghost who asks them to help him with a mission – one that leads the trio on a journey of self-discovery.
Stegman says she wanted to write this fantasy story to help young readers see themselves in her characters and be inspired to accept themselves, including any perceived flaws.
“When I was a kid, my favorite book was about an 11-year-old – my age at the time – with freckles – just like me,” Stegman says. “She hated her freckles, just like I did, and I’ve never forgotten that this character learned to accept not only her freckles but also herself. Her journey spoke to me so powerfully that decades later, I decided to write a middle-grade fantasy that I hoped would mean as much to readers today as that story meant to me.”
For more on Stegman and her book, visit www.laurastegman.com.