September 16, 2014

Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL

Stories by Chris Benjamin, Ben Boudreau, Gerard Collins, Alison DeLory, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Patti Larsen, Cale Liom, Chad Pelley, Lee D. Thompson and Jo Treggiari
Forward by Susin Nielsen
Edited by Allister Thompson
Fierce Ink Press
205 pp.
Ages 13+
For release September 23, 2014

I'd been wondering about the idea of being fierce, a word I always recall using to describe lions and tigers. In fact, fierce always seems to be synonymous with wild, savage, intense and violent.  None of these are actually traits to which someone might aspire, are they?  But more recently, fierceness has taken on the positive dimension of being bold and gutsy, without arrogance or insolence.  Everyone will experience a time when becoming fierce is the only option, other than concession or worse.  I celebrate the writers of the ten short stories in Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL who share their own experiences in teenhood, about themselves and others, when becoming fierce releases them from the holds of fears, bullies, confusion, family, drugs, and even country.

These short stories all come from Atlantic writers whose experiences may or may not be defined by their regions.  Cuisvé by Chris Benjamin tells the story of an international exchange he shared with a young man, Ben, from St. Lucia.  Though Chris, 19, felt fierce breaking up with his girlfriend, sure that their relationship would never survive their three months separation, it's Ben's Uncle Dingo whose passion for his country is truly fierce in so many ways.  In The Long Last Year, Gerard Collins struggles with graduating from high school in Newfoundland, without any decisions made for his future, and dealing with his father who suffered a debilitating stroke which ultimately cost him his life.  Gerard Collins' fierceness needed to wait until the day he was ready to go beyond his home. The rather isolated community of Summerside, PEI, probably contributed to Cale Liom's necessity for fierceness, with the bullying and abuse she endured, as described in I Used to Think I'd Make a Good Boy.  Growing up with relentless homophobic comments because she was a girl who just wanted to have the same opportunities to do sports and such like the boys pushed Cale Liom into further confusion and suicidal thoughts, though her strength came from surviving it all.

As in Cuisvé and The Long Last Year, family can play a significant role in becoming fierce.  Lee D. Thompson's Diary of a Fluky Kid relives, in nine innings, his ever-changing relationships with the fathers in his life: his own father who was relentless about teaching his eldest daughter to play baseball, and the fathers of two friends, Gino and Murray, who taught him how to hit, to anticipate a curve ball, to sprint and finally to love the sport his father adored.

But, as with so many teens, self-esteem and self-acceptance are often tied to one's friends and peers, and that can be both valuable and disastrous.  Ben Boudreau's camp counsellor experiences, recounted in Say It's Okay, started with bullying by the "real" counsellors who were neither pimply nor awkward. Here he meets Pete, who has special needs, continuing to babysit the boy years later when Ben is in university and Pete is 13.  A power outage at Pete's house when Ben is babysitting reveals the fierceness both have developed in very different ways.  The boy in Jamie Fitzpatrick’s These Memories Can’t Wait relies on music to focus and give himself an identify, whether as a preteen asking a girl to dance or a teen wrapped in the powerful volume of new music.

Both Patti Larsen and Alison DeLory share their own self-doubts alongside fairy tale-like stories in which they finally recognize their own worth.  While Patti Larsen's Prince Nameless shares her struggle with popularity, or lack thereof, juxtaposed with a warrioress enamoured with a prince, Alison DeLory examines her teen body image (i.e., Some of My Parts) against the story of a red-hoodied girl lost in a forest with a wolf.

Two of the most intense stories for me included Love You Like Suicide by Jo Treggiari and Before I Was Me by Chad Pelley. The intensity of the losses both writers endure feels like a weight, a boulder that could drag them down or one upon which they could scramble up and look beyond.  Jo Treggiari's teen has the fierceness that comes from perceived invincibility, until she learns otherwise and reinvents herself. On the other hand, Chad Pelley speaks to Dani, a girl with whom he'd fallen in love in high school because of her "fearless passion to be alive in the most immediate, desperate way" (pg. 143). His message to her includes the wish that she'd stayed fierce enough to find out who she really was, something that he didn't do until he was much older.

Real fierceness comes from surviving those circumstances in which you didn't have fierceness.  And, then when you have it, it's not always evident because those circumstances just seem to slide right on by.  The trick is to get through those challenges and accept the new fierceness as an armament tucked away until needed again.  And Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL provides others the opportunity to see that it does get better, if you can just hang in there. I'm glad all these writers did.


Tomorrow, the ten short story writers of Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL have kindly agreed to share some advice they might have given to their pre-fierce selves, advice which would be useful for most of us to heed.  Look for that post tomorrow.

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