Hi there, Emily, and thank you for inviting me to contribute to your blog! I know you often review books, but because I’m an author rather than reviewer, I thought I’d tell your readers a little about my debut novel,Brotherhood, and why I wrote it.
It’s the story of a fourteen year-old boy who gets caught up in the Ku Klux Klan shortly after the organization forms as a brotherhood for soldiers who survive the “War of Northern Aggression.” A strong secondary character is an African-American girl who now runs a school for children of freed slaves.
People often ask me where I got the idea for this story. Well, I have to say that it didn’t start so much with an idea as with a feeling—with the sense of being stuck and wanting to get out. That was my father’s feeling when he was growing up in Alabama and central Florida in the 1930s. He felt stuck beneath the weight of an expectation that white boys should learn to treat black people badly. My daddy didn’t want any part of that expectation, and when he was about nine years old, he vowed he’d never raise his own children in the South.
So I grew up in Pennsylvania. Years later, when my husband’s job took us to Richmond, Virginia, I found myself wondering what it might have felt like for a shy white boy to grow up in the South. I imagined what a Klan chapter might have looked like, and how it might have operated, if one had formed in Richmond.
My protagonist questions the Klan, but doesn’t stop running with them. If he were to come to life today, I believe he’d say he felt stuck and wanted to get out like my daddy did, but he couldn’t. We might even hear him whisper, “I’m sorry.” But even though I spent two years writing his story, digging deeply to understand him, I think I’d shake my head at him. I’m not ready to pat him on the back and tell him, “That’s okay.” I’ll never feel ready to excuse the Klan.
For more about Brotherhood, check out my website, abwestrick.com. Newbery Award-winning author Richard Peck describes the story this way: “A boy struggling to come of age in a ruined world reaches in all the wrong directions for being and belonging in this story that uncovers a trove of hidden history.”
I wrote much of Brotherhood while I was a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Now I’m writing a new novel—new setting, new time period—and I’ve noticed that my new protagonist also feels stuck. Hmm. I guess I have a theme. Do you like to write, too? What’s the theme of your writing?
A.B. Westrick, abwestrick.com, is the author of Brotherhood (Viking/Penguin Books for Young Readers).