The Big Idea: Elly Swartz
There are moments in life that define us. Moments in life that imprint on our hearts. But what happens when those moments are defined by others. When those moments are echoed in cultural norms and across middle school cafeterias everywhere. What then? Are we able to take back the power and define our own destinies? Are we able to tell the world exactly who we are.
I wanted to find out. Explore this idea in my middle grade novel, Hidden Truths. And it felt like an organic exploration. Because I started this story in 2001! Yep, that’s 22 years of writing, revising, reimagining.
22 years of rejection.
Some asked why I kept writing? It was a good question. It’s not like I’ve gotten better at being rejected – spoiler, I haven’t. And statistically, it didn’t seem likely that this book was ever going to find its way into the world. Or that I was going to find my way to becoming a published author – that was its own 15 year journey. But I realized somewhere along this long winding path that I was a writer because I wrote. Not because somebody said I was good enough. The world didn’t define me.
That power was mine if I was willing and courageous enough to own it.
I loved this idea. So I dove into it as I wrote Hidden Truths. Were my two main characters—Dani and Eric—willing to color outside the lines? Own their own narrative? Defy the labels and assumptions that were put upon them?
The answer was yes.
This story is told from alternating points of view, so the reader hears from both Eric and Dani—their struggles, their doubts, and their discoveries. Eric has ADHD and, at times, is bullied – physically and verbally by his nemesis Leo, and on social media by his bff’s new friend Meadow—which is complicated for a whole host of other reasons.
But as the story moves forward, Eric learns that he’s much more than the way the world defines him. He is not a loser because Leo called him one. He is not his ADHD. He is a loyal friend, a curious thinker, an innovative problem solver, a kind heart, and a good person. He is not one thing. He is a blend of all the traits he’s proud of and all the ones he’s working on.
After all, we’re all working on something. Right?
We also see that labels don’t just impact Eric, but Dani, too. She’s been told her whole life that she’ll never make the all-boys baseball team—because she’s a good player, but good for a girl. And that’s somehow different. Unqualifying. But Dani doesn’t listen to the haters. She rises above and defies the gender stereotype. She is later reminded that, “Life is not happening to you….[Y]ou get to choose who you are.” (194)
Choice. It’s an empowering thing.
Dani and Eric are more than the bully’s taunts and societal labels.
I want all kids to see that they, too, are so much more than the way the world defines them.
I want all kids to own their own narrative. Color outside the lines.
So what did I learn along my 22 year winding path to publication?
You hold the power to tell the world exactly who you are.
Own it! Embrace it! And never give it away!