Au­thor asks tough ques­tions in book

Tack­les themes of care for vet­er­ans, pa­tri­o­tism

Greenwich Time - - FRONT PAGE - By Jo Kroeker

GREEN­WICH — Bom­bas­tic, an­ti­im­mi­grant elec­tion rhetoric. Post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der among vet­er­ans. Win­ning or do­ing the right thing.

Green­wich young adult au­thor Sarah Darer Littman tack­les these hot-but­ton themes in her new­est young adult book, “Any­thing But Okay.”

Littman’s book, her sixth for Scholas­tic Press, hit shelves Tues­day. In it, Stella, a high school ju­nior, runs in a school elec­tion that is af­fected by a con­cur­rent na­tional elec­tion re­sem­bling the pres­i­den­tial race of 2016. The sec­ond plot fol­lows her older brother, Rob, a vet­eran of the war in Afghanistan whose strug­gles with PTSD af­fects his par­ents, vet­er­ans them­selves.

“It’s a timely, top­i­cal book, the char­ac­ters are well-writ­ten and well-de­vel­oped,” Green­wich High School Li­brary Me­dia Spe­cial­ist Alexan­dra Stevens said. “Even if you’re not a teenager, it’s a win­dow into some of the things hap­pen­ing in schools to­day. It might even be a good book for an adult to read and then talk about with their kids.”

In re­cent years, mid­dle-grade lit­er­a­ture has con­fronted mod­ern prob­lems with in­creas­ing fre­quency and can­dor.

“It’s much scarier for young peo­ple when adults are try­ing to tell them ev­ery­thing is OK when they know it isn’t,” Littman said. “Be­ing hon­est in an ageap­pro­pri­ate way is, to me, a bet­ter strat­egy than pre­tend­ing prob­lems don’t ex­ist.”

For “Any­thing But Okay,” she asked

her­self two ques­tions: Why does the U.S. pay to send troops to war but not take care of its re­turn­ing vet­er­ans? And: What does it means to be a pa­triot?

“I’m try­ing to find an­swers for my­self, not nec­es­sar­ily try­ing to tell oth­ers what the an­swers are,” she said. “My hope is they at least start con­ver­sa­tions, and I think that’s some­thing that lit­er­a­ture does so well.”

Both ques­tions are per­sonal: The first re­acts to the story of an ac­quain­tance, a dis­il­lu­sioned Air Force vet­eran who served in Afghanistan and came back with health is­sues but was de­nied dis­abil­ity; the sec­ond re­sponds to hate mail she re­ceived over years as a po­lit­i­cal colum­nist — in­clud­ing for Green­wich Time and the Stam­ford Ad­vo­cate.

One piece of hate mail she re­ceived told her she “was us­ing the Amer­i­can way of life to de­stroy the Amer­i­can way of life and the rest of civ­i­liza­tion in the process.”

“I found that very con­fus­ing,” she said. “I thought I was be­ing a pa­triot, do­ing my job as a jour­nal­ist by ques­tion­ing some of what I saw hap­pen­ing.”

The dy­namic be­tween the vet­er­ans in the fam­ily in par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ested Stevens.

“I thought that the way she por­trayed what vet­er­ans are deal­ing with was some­thing that a lot of teens, es­pe­cially in the North­east, don’t have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence with,” she said.

The book, which Littman said is her most po­lit­i­cal so far, stems from her vir­tual class­room vis­its in which she talks about cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, the topic of her last book, “Back­lash.”

Most kids raise their hands when she asks if they have been the sub­ject of nasty com­ments on­line.

“I tell them we as adults have to model the be­hav­ior we want to see from you and we’re do­ing a re­ally lousy job of it,” she said.

Teens are over­whelmed by the the world’s prob­lems and bom­barded by them on­line, Stevens said. Fic­tion helps them con­front these rel­e­vant top­ics at their own pace with a lit­tle dis­tance from re­al­ity, she said.

“It’s nice to have that safe space,” she said.

East­ern Mid­dle School has ev­ery book Littman has writ­ten, Li­brary Me­dia Spe­cial­ist Karen Ball said. Her books, es­pe­cially “Back­lash,” res­onate with her stu­dents be­cause Littman un­der­stands the ado­les­cent mind, she said.

Mid­dle school stu­dents know when some­one tries to pan­der to them or talk down to them, but Littman writes with truth and hon­esty and her read­ers learn im­por­tant lessons from her sto­ries, Ball said.

“Kids go­ing through cer­tain things find what they need out of cer­tain books,” Ball said. “Ev­ery sin­gle one of her books has found read­ers that needed them.”

A book launch party for “Any­thing But Okay” will be held at Bar­rett Books in Darien on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.

Con­trib­uted pho­tos

Green­wich au­thor Sarah Darer Littman’s novel for young adults, ”Any­thing But OK,” hit shelves Tues­day.

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