Don't let the title mislead you - today's post isn't a recipe for one of my favorite drinks. It's a guest post from Vox Dei author Wendy Lynn Decker, whose YA novel Sweet Tea recently re-released under the Vox Dei banner. I was completely blown away by her book, and asked her to be a guest on my blog so I could share it with all of you. Stay tuned after the article for more information about and an excerpt from Sweet Tea. ~Heather
Readers often ask me if I intended to write an issue-related young adult book. My answer is, yes and no. I intended SWEET TEA to be a story about a girl fearing to be left alone to care for her mentally ill mother when her older sister (the main caretaker) moves out. She fears this responsibility and is determined to create an opportunity to make her future more important than her sister’s, so her sister will remain caretaker. Along with that goal, comes the guilt of whether it is fear or selfishness that prompts her motive.
While attempting to write that story, an additional one began writing itself, and I couldn’t keep the issue of mental illness a side note; it became a major part of the story. However, I didn’t want that to be the story’s only focus. I wanted to include the elements and challenges that young adults face, e.g., friendships, crushes, temptation, confusion, etc. I also wanted to add the dark humor moments that arise during these situations.
In addition, I love fiction, and reading it all my life helped me escape my own reality in my later teen years. As the story progressed, I realized I needed to move it further away from myself because I grew up in a home where mental illness existed. Setting it in Georgia made that happen. During the initial writing of my book, I had never been to Georgia, but a childhood friend grew up there, and my adult, best friend had recently moved there. Georgia was calling my name, (kind of like it did for Ray Charles). I also love music. Without realizing it, I now know these connections led me to choose that particular state.
After researching the area where my friend had moved, I decided to create a fictional town nearby, surrounded by factual cities and landmarks. The more I learned about the people there, as well as the long-existing mental hospital, I began finding characters there too. One after the other, speaking in a southern drawl, they allowed me get to know and love them.
While writing the book, I shared it with other writers and friends for critique, and they began sharing their own stories of dealing with mental illness. I knew that the subject touched many people. I wanted to add more detail to educate readers. This is important to me, and it should be important to society since one in four people have some form of mental illness, but when it is a parent, like in the case of Olivia (the protagonist in my book), it is devastating. It's no secret that the childhood years leave the most impact on who we become as adults, and when we have parents with mental illness there is no escaping the effects. Children in homes often don’t realize their parent is afflicted, and/or they are embarrassed to tell anyone. Therefore, the stigma needs to be erased and society must be open-minded and educated so people can get the help they need.
Writing for young adults is a passion for me. That young person inside me is very much alive, and I find it comforting to write from her perspective. My emotion remains near the surface and is easy to tap into. All in all, I’d like to think I’ve created an entertaining book that makes readers laugh and cry while educating them on a very important topic that makes them think and feel.
About the author: Wendy Lynn Decker has lived in thirteen different towns in the state of New Jersey. Now, she lives a bike ride away from the ocean and her favorite restaurant. She is the author of the middle-grade chapter book, THE BEDAZZLING BOWL, which is the first book intended for a series.
Find her here
Excerpt from the book:
The emergency room at Henry Medical Center smelled like cigarette smoke and urine washed over with antiseptic. I’d never been there before, and I didn’t expect to see so many people that resembled those with the symptoms the doctor on the talk show spoke about. Although most needed physical care, many seemed to need mental health care, and this wasn’t a mental hospital.
Some of the people roamed about like zombies in B-movies. Their vacant stares said, “I’m still here, please come find me.” Many of the patients were pacing, as if they were taking part in some kind of ritual. Some shouted words at random. One woman seemed to be speaking in a language only she could understand. I was afraid to make eye contact with anyone, for fear someone would approach me. But I knew I had to look around the room.
An old woman with only one-half of her head braided asked me for a cigarette. One already hung from her twisted lips. It felt like we had wandered into a secret society meeting, and we had better find Mama and get out while we could.
I overheard one of the nurses say to another, “It must be a full moon tonight.”
“My goodness,” the other nurse responded. “I haven’t seen it like this in quite some time. That strong lunar force is drawing them out like vampires to a blood bank.”
CeCe and I approached the desk. “Excuse me, ma’am,” CeCe said to the desk clerk. “The police told us a woman that fits our mother’s description has been brought here.”
“What’s her name?”
“Cassandra Travis,” I answered, surprised at how faint my voice sounded.
She thumbed through her roster. “The police brought in a Jane Doe. We’ve been asking her name, but she won’t tell us.” The clerk motioned toward a nurse. “They’re here to see Jane Doe in room twelve.”
The nurse nodded and said, “Follow me.”
I thought of Luke and was glad we’d left him at home.
CeCe and I followed the nurse down a long corridor. Blue curtains covered doorways on each side. We approached the last room on the left, and the nurse pulled a chart from a hook on the wall. She opened the curtain. “This is Jane Doe.”
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.