Review and Guest Post: Reasons to be Happy by Katrina Kittle

Reasons to Be Happy by Katrina Kittle: Book CoverReasons To Be Happy by Katrina Kittle 

REASONS TO BE HAPPY

21. Cat purr vibrating through your skin
22. Jumping on a trampoline in the rain
23. Raw cookie dough
24. Getting yourself all freaked out after a scary movie
25. Dancing like an idiot when no one is watching

What happened to the girl who wrote those things? I miss that girl. She used to be bold and fun. Now she’s a big chicken loser.
How could so much change so fast?
Let’s see, you could be the plain Jane daughter of two gorgeous famous people, move to a new school, have no real friends, and your mom could get sick, and, oh yeah, you could have the most embarrassing secret in the world.
Yep, that about does it.
So, the real question is, how do I get that girl back?

Let’s Hear Some From Katrina Kittle About Her Book:

 

Thank you so much for hosting me, Lisa!

 

     At my recent book events since Reasons to Be Happy has released, I often ask the adults in the audience to raise their hands if they would repeat their middle school years if they could.

     Are you surprised at all that so far no one has raised their hand to volunteer for that?

     Do you remember middle school? Was your experience pretty horrible? Mine was. Such a crazy, miserable time of insecurity. My life had been great leading up to sixth grade…and suddenly it was a trainwreck. Most memories of that time seem all fuzzy with self-doubt, humiliation, unbearable shyness. Ugh. I would no more want to re-live that time that I would want to chop off one of my own hands.

     When I became a middle school teacher myself, I kept a photo of my seventh grade self in my desk drawer. This awful photo—of me with a hideous perm (I’d had a friend give it to me so that I could have curls like the popular girls), goofy glasses (how I longed for the contact lenses I would finally get in high school), and wearing outrageous, ridiculous high heels (were they comfortable? no! did I look natural in them? no! did I do much that made sense then? no!)—was my reminder on the days the students were making me to want to go drink vodka in the teacher’s bathroom. That photo gave me compassion and patience for my students. That photo reminded me: they can’t help it. I mean, I could walk into my classroom and feel the hormones and anxiety in the air.

     The middle school years are the time of the most development and change for humans since they were infants. It’s a time of physical and emotional change, maturity development, hormonal chaos. As we all know, change is confusing and uncomfortable. All that change can cause an identity crisis. It was the identity crisis I kept witnessing as a teacher (and remembered from my own middle school years) that led me to Reasons to Be Happy.

     As a teacher, I grew so disheartened by a particular phenomenon I saw unfold over and over again: bright, bold, curious girls—strong and confident in their abilities—would hit the wall of self-doubt around seventh grade. They’d lose all sense of their own unique identity, stop taking any risks, and retreat into approval-seeking behaviors that made them all seem like watered-down clones of each other. Every single one of my novels has begun with a social issue I’m passionate about, and one day I realized this concern and obsession I had with “keeping girls brave and confident” was my new story. I began to seek the cast of characters who could inhabit this story, and Hannah Anne Carlisle came into existence.

     As a writer, I’m fascinated with how story ideas will simmer a long, long time before they take shape. I’ll often have several different story “threads” and suddenly one day it will finally become clear which threads I might be able to braid together to make a book. That certainly happened with Reasons to Be Happy. Hannah’s “list” was something I did in my own classroom—putting a reason to be happy on the whiteboard every day. I already had the drama of the middle school pecking order playing out in front of me on a daily basis. I knew that body image was still a huge part of the middle school girl identity crisis. I could pull specific knowledge of the particular workings of bulimia and anorexia from my years as a serious ballet student, and, sadly, from some experiences with my own students. (Instead of improving the situation with our awareness and understanding of body image and eating disorders, these issues seem more pervasive than ever before—40 percent of nine-year-olds have already dieted!) Add to this my own secret obsession with celebrity gossip (friends are sometimes horrified to discover this about me. I guess they all think I’m much more lofty-minded than I really am), which led me to make Hannah’s parents into A-list actors. I also have local friends who are twice-Academy-Award-nominated documentary film makers (hence, the creation of Hannah’s Aunt Izzy). And I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Ghana once with a group of students, and had long been looking for the right place to use some of my experiences from that life-altering trip. (I actually had a goat under my bed one night in Tafi Atome, just like Hannah does…and can I just say that Hannah’s creative use of a plastic grocery bag was unfortunately not made up).

    What I hope readers take away from the book is that our authentic selves are so much more interesting and beautiful (and less maintenance!) than anything we “manufacture” to please others. It took Hannah being plunked down in a culture where she had no idea what was even considered beautiful, for her to be kind to herself and accept her own body. We all spend so much time comparing ourselves, judging ourselves against that teensy percentage of women who are supermodels (airbrushed supermodels, thank you very much) instead of accepting our imperfections and embracing our own unique beauty. Hannah discovers that what she perceived as an imperfection is actually one of her strengths.

     That’s the real beauty of the writing life to me: we use everything. Anything I see or experience, no matter how random or trivial, might just become a piece of “the story behind the story.”

 

www.katrinakittle.com

 

Twitter:  @katrinakittle

 

www.facebook.com/KatrinaKittleFanClub

 

http://katrinakittle.blogspot.com/  (Reasons to Be Happy Blog, lists a reason to be happy everyday)

 

There’s a hash-tag—#reasonstobehappy—for your tweeting purposes. 🙂

My Thoughts:

Right of the bat, I have to say that this cover was a bit misleading.  This is not the happy go lucky book the cover portrays it to be.  While yes, it has its happy moments and its self realization moments and some darn good highs, it also deals with several very serious topics, fitting in, bulimia, parents dying and parents with alcohol problems along with drunk driving.  In my opinion, that is a lot for one book to take on.  I was impressed with the balance and honesty that is displayed by Katrina Kittle in this story.  

Hannah is a teen with two famous parents which have sent her to a new private school since the paparazzi simply will not leave them alone.  She has set goals for her first day of school but everything changes when Brittney is her host the first day.  She finds herself in the B-group.  All the girls the same and petty.  She feels out of place and fat.  And it only gets worse after a beach party where she end up in the bathroom throwing up.  She realizes that she has found her SR (Secret Remedy).    She quickly loses the extra weight but the girls are still using her as a “punching bag.”  Things only get worse.  After a few cruel interaction and her mother dying of cancer, Hannah finds herself  stuffing herself and purging more and more often.  This has lead to her stealing and getting caught at school which puts her on kitchen duty where she gets to know Jasper, the school’s scholarship student.  He catching her in a bad situation with stuffing herself.  Soon after it is spring break where Hannah finds herself shipped off to her Aunt Izzy’s.  Her own father so drunk all the time that she doesn’t think he wants her around.  While everyone else is going to warm vacation spots, Hannah ends up in Ohio and is forced to face her bulimia.   Her Aunt Izzy had her own eating disorder and forces Hannah to come to terms with her issues.  Meanwhile, her father is involved in a drunk driving accident.  Can Hannah put the pieces of her life back together before it is too late?

I was very impressed with this story.  Bulimia is something that so many teens face and this book is in your face with the descriptions of exactly what your body goes through.  Yes it is graphic at times but I think that this is the best book I have read that actually paints the true pictures of bulimia and it is not pretty.  My kudos to Katrina Kittle for doing a great job of balance the gross outcome of bulimia with the healing story of help and healing that is Reasons To Be Happy.  

My favorite part of the book however is the trip to the other side of the world and the unexpected healing that takes place.  I felt like I was sitting right there with Hannah, seeing what she was seeing as well as the sounds and smells as well.  I can picture the children and the shops and merchants.  I like a book that exposes me to new things and this did that right along with the main story line of the book.  Overall, I was very impressed with the author and this story.

My Rating:

5 Penguins!

I would highly recommend this book while it is difficult to read at points I think that it is by far the most honest book I have read about an eating disorder and what it can and will do to a person.  I read this book in one day and I have already passed it on to a teen in my life.  Fitting is hard to do but there is a smart way to do it.