Karen Rivers is an inspiration to me; not only does she write fine and imaginative novels, she does it on a nearly yearly basis! I fell in love with her work upon my encounter with A Possibility of Whales, which led me straight to Love, Ish, and now has led me to Karen’s latest, Naked Mole Rat Saves the World (Algonquin Young Readers). I am intrigued with the questions she explores in her work and am confident you will be, too.
I honestly cannot remember a time when I was not anxious. I’m sure there must have been some moment in my childhood — some day, some week, even whole years — when this wasn’t the case, but I can’t remember anything except that I was always waiting for my body to betray me. Again.
I was a “fainter” – that’s what they called us back in the 70s and 80s for lack of a better diagnosis – and at any given time, my vision might suddenly fade and I would crash gracelessly, with little warning, to the floor.
It was humiliating. But worse, it was terrifying.
When I started writing Naked Mole Rat Saves the World (Algonquin Young Readers)– which I knew was going to involve anxiety – I gave kit-with-a-small-k a slightly different version of what I experienced. Instead of fainting, her body becomes something else altogether. This is further complicated by the absurd impossibility of what is happening to her. No one else would (or could) possibly believe it, so it is necessarily a secret that she has to keep, all the while growing increasingly anxious about it happening again, that someone will see it happen, and that she’ll have to explain this humiliating, terrifying thing that has no actual explanation.
Early in my first draft, I was watching an episode of America’s Got Talent involving a family. The parents looked like polished professional musicians, but the kids were visibly nervous. (Full confession: I rarely watch this show because I get too emotional. For so many contestants, it matters too much — they’ve gambled everything on this one shot. For kids, sometimes, those stakes are too high.) As I watched (and cried), I started thinking …What if? What if not only did they not win, but what if they fell? What if a kid was to blame? What would happen after the show ended?
So I wrote kit a friend – a best friend – who had an untellable secret of her own: The fall on stage was her fault.
And also she’s been wondering, what if she’s crazy?
I want the readers of Naked Mole Rat Saves The World – kids who I think sometimes silently wonder, “Am I okay?” — to find themselves in the characters and to really, genuinely feel the answer by the end.
There is such relief in knowing that it’s not just you, it’s never just you.
This book is for all the fainters, all the anxious kids, all the kids who can’t trust their bodies, all the kids who can’t explain why they’re scared or why they’re sad or why they’re mad or why they’ve pushed everyone away.
I want to tell them, “I see you. And you know what? You are okay. Just hang in there. I promise it gets better.”
I want to give them a hug.
So that’s what this book is: A hug for my past self, for the kid I was who was always afraid, but could never explain.
Karen Rivers is the author of twenty-four novels, ranging from middle grade and YA to adult literary fiction. Her books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. Her creative non-fiction has been published in two anthologies, as well as The Globe and Mail. When she’s not writing, reading, or teaching about Harry Potter at the University of Victoria, she can be found hiking and taking photos in the woods behind her home in Victoria, where she lives with her two kids, three dogs, and a flock of budgies. Find her online and on Twitter @karenrivers.