What's a more chilling title than GIRL SENT AWAY? Not only is this a gripping novel, but it's an important one, because girls--and boys--are indeed sent away to adolescent boot camps in an attempt to "fix" their troubled behavior. Of course, it is a disaster.
I'm thrilled to have Lynne Griffin on the blog. She is a nationally recognized expert on family life and the author of the novels Girl Sent Away Sea Escape, and Life Without Summer. She's also the author of the parenting guides Let's Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Health and Negotiation Generation.
Caroline: Girl Sent Away is about the tough love wilderness camps for troubled teens. What was your research like? What surprised you the most?
Lynne: Like my other novels, Girl Sent Away is inspired by my work with families. I’m a family counselor and have had clients—desperate parents—who have considered this tough love approach to treatment for their troubled teens. Adolescent boot camps have been in and out of the news for years—and the reality of these places is controversial, with physical abuse, accidents, deaths, and little proof that these expensive, militaristic programs actually help. The techniques aimed at coercing teens into submission make underlying mental health issues in teens worse, not better.
Caroline: You’ve said that you and your publisher believe that this novel can be an educational opportunity for parents, teachers and teens. You’re also releasing a nonfiction guide for reading the novel called Let’s Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Health, that shows adults how to engage teens to build empathy and strengthen emotional resilience. Can you talk more about that and perhaps give examples of how novels can teach?
Lynne: We have a crisis in our mental health system and I feel compelled to contribute to the conversation any way I can. To me, the novel is an incomparable vehicle for exploring our emotional lives and raising social consciousness. Compelling stories have the ability to draw us in. They challenge our present attitudes, often shifting our perspectives. When I was writing Girl Sent Away, in deliberate ways I found myself imagining a narrative that might offer tangible emotional benefits to readers. I crafted a story, that when discussed, might foster deeper connections between parents and teens, richer communication, and ultimately a greater understanding of the preciousness of our mental health.
Caroline: Girl Sent Away isn’t just about a troubled daughter—it’s also about her haunted father who struggles to find his way back to her. It’s refreshing that you don’t pin blame on parents, but instead seek understanding. Can you talk about this please?
Lynne: I’m so glad you experienced the novel in that way. I don’t think playing the blame game does any of us any good. I believe most parents are well-intentioned—
though that doesn’t mean they aren’t sometimes misguided. To really understand adolescent mental health, I felt it was critical to explore both the parent and teen perspectives. If young adult readers come away with a greater understanding of their parents’ worries, and adult readers have a better grasp of the sometimes secret, emotional lives of our teenagers, then I’ll feel I’ve made an impact.
Caroline: Is something being done about these places? What can the average person do to shut them down?
Lynne: Yes! This past July, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress aimed at holding residential treatment programs and bootcamps accountable to a set of minimum health and safety standards, including strong anti-discrimination protections for LBGT teens and teens with mental illness. That said, it’s an uphill climb because many of the more notorious programs have a history of disappearing and then reinventing themselves when government or media attention gets too hot. But anyone passionate about families can commit to destigmatizing mental illness. If we talk about it—and really listen to the people who struggle—as a society we can embrace more empathic alternatives.
Caroline: What kind of writer are you? Was writing this book different than writing any of your others? Did you have rituals? Did you plot it out or did it seem to write itself?
Lynne: I’d say I’m a goal-driven writer. If I have specific projects going, I can be really focused and produce pages. But I don’t write every day. It’s my fantasy that someday I can, but I still have a private practice and work at a school and teach at a college, so it’s not my reality right now. My only rituals involve writing in silence. I’m not very good at tuning out music or any noise really. I need to get lost in the fictional dream. As for plotting my stories, I do. I begin with loose outlines, and though I always know the ending in advance, I leave lots of room for interesting things to happen to the characters along the way.
Caroline: What’s obsessing you now and why?Lynne: I’m excited about the opportunities coming my way to participate in the conversation around adolescent mental health. Parents are hosting discussion groups using the novel and teachers are integrating Girl Sent Away into high school literacy, health, and media literacy curricula. To have others use my story to raise awareness about this important subject is a privilege.