Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Interview with Lynne Griffin, author of Girl Sent Away

Toby Sedgwick is terrified by his daughter’s increasingly reckless behavior and takes a tough love approach, enrolling Ava in Mount Hope, a wilderness behavioral camp for troubled teens. Ava quickly realizes that the camp is little more than a prison, warehousing and abusing kids for their parents’ money. And after spending a disturbing weekend completing the parent portion of treatment, Toby knows it too.

As Ava desperately searches for a way out of Mount Hope, she is faced with resurfacing memories of a family tragedy. She can no longer suppress the pain of what happened to her mother and sister eight years earlier in Thailand. As father and daughter fight to get back to each other, the truth may irrevocably tear them apart.


What inspired you to write your most recent novel, Girl Sent Away? Did you set out to write a book that dealt with adolescent mental health? 
Like my other novels, Girl Sent Away is inspired by my work with families. I’m a counselor and I’ve worked with parents who’ve considered this tough love approach. 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. In my experience, the techniques aimed at coercing teens into submission actually make underlying mental health issues worse, not better. 

Was it a difficult topic to tackle/write about? 
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 story that might offer tangible emotional benefits to teens. A novel that when discussed, might foster deeper connections between us, richer communication, and ultimately a greater understanding of the preciousness of our mental health. 

How has your experience as a counselor influenced your writing? 
Over the years in my role as family and school counselor I’ve heard so many stories like the ones in Girl Sent Away. And I’ve been inspired by the brave teenagers—and their families—who’ve changed the course of their lives because they were willing to talk about their struggles, to understand and regulate emotion in the face of unprecedented societal pressure. 

You mention the importance of helping adolescents develop coping skills. Can you give examples? 
Building relationships—learning where we end and others begin—is forever a work-in-progress. Having emotional protection skills is no guarantee that every feeling experience or relationship will be positive—nor should we expect that—but not having them ensures that life will be complicated and relationships enmeshed and unhealthy. 
When emotional boundaries are well-developed, it makes it possible for us to separate our own thoughts and feelings from those of others. We are more able to take responsibility for our feelings, regulate our responses to those feelings and the behavior of others, and express our wants and needs thoughtfully and respectfully. 

Why do you think teens are hesitant to talk about mental health? 
Understandably teenagers may not want to talk about how they’re feeling or ask for help because they feel ashamed or scared. They worry others may judge them or treat them negatively based on their mental health diagnosis. In some cases that’s been their experience. They may have trouble admitting life is hard. They worry they’ll be perceived as weak or lazy because of their difficulties fitting in at school or maintaining relationships. The media doesn’t help here. As a society we’re quick to ridicule celebrities or label people unlike us pejoratively. We have a lot of work to do to normalize wide ranges of feeling states, lending a hand to those who experience tough times. 

What do you think it is going to take before society confronts these issues? 
I think as a society we are starting to confront these issues. We talk more openly now about anxiety and depression, substance use and abuse. We have less stigma around seeking professional counseling and family support. That’s not to say we don’t have a long way to go, but strides are being made to raise awareness about prevention and treatment. I have to be hopeful we’ll get there. 

Lynne Griffin is the author of the family-focused novels Girl Sent Away, Sea Escape, and Life Without Summer, as well as the nonfiction titles, Let’s Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Health and Negotiation Generation—Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment. Lynne is a registered nurse and family counselor who teaches family studies at Wheelock College, and is the Social-Emotional Learning Specialist at an independent school in Boston. She teaches fiction writing at GrubStreet, an independent writing center in Boston and facilitates their program for soon-to-be published authors called Launch Lab.

Critics have noted that Lynne’s work is all heart—with “carefully crafted characters that ring heartbreakingly true” (Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW, Life Without Summer), and that as a writer, Lynne tells her stories “with literary grace and a keen sense of human nature” (Carol Cassella, author of Oxygen), with the ability to “pluck the heartstrings” (Entertainment Weekly’s MUST READ LIST, Sea Escape)

Praise for Girl Sent Away
“Girl Sent Away is a sensitive, compulsively readable novel about the enduring devotion of a father and daughter, and the frightening, shadowy world of troubled teens.”—William Landay, author of Defending Jacob

With its young heroine and sensitive examination of adolescents in crisis, Girl Sent Away would do well to find a teen audience.  –Kirkus Reviews

A harrowing tale of family and adolescence–of the things parents do to keep their children whole and the terrible mistakes they make along the way. —Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street


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