I’ve worked with children in care for over four years. That was the place where this book started. I was working with children who were asking me questions like "Why am I here?" and "Why isn't my mom able to take care of me?". It was heartbreaking for me to have to try and answer the children.
I wondered, are there books out there? Are there books that can help kids understand the child welfare system?
This book dives into the realities of growing up in poverty, an experience that’s rarely represented in children’s literature. Why did you decide to make this part of Naveah’s story?
I wanted to be able to reach those children who are asking themselves “How come I don't have this?” and “How come I don't have that?”. I wanted to speak in a down-to-earth way that was relatable to children. I wanted to say that poverty is not the kid’s fault.
Naveah has a hard time letting herself feel happy or even letting herself relax because of the bad things in her life. Where do you think this feeling comes from?
I think I've had those feelings. Which is why I can write about it.
Some people are so busy taking care of others that they forget to take care of themselves. Then when we are faced with things like bubble baths and soap it's like, how do I use this? I've never seen that.
People who come from trauma or people who have had a hard life don't always know how to do self-care. It's something that we should learn from our parents or teachers. We should be taught about self-care. But in some families, it’s not even brought up. It wasn't when I was growing up. Even at 52 years old, I'm still learning. Okay, how do I do that self-care?
Writing and reading play a big role in helping Naveah along her healing journey. Can you speak to this, about the importance of writing and reading for young people?
With writing it's a way that you can process your feelings or process trauma. For me, it's a therapeutic way to process whatever it is I'm feeling. I wanted Neveah to be able to talk about her feelings through poetry.
As a child, reading saved me in a lot of ways. Reading helped take me out of my own life and into the world around me. I wish I could have read books like Hopeless in Hope.
Why did you decide to name the book Hopeless in Hope?
When you're a kid in care you can feel hopeless. if your parents are struggling with addiction or if they're never home. You can feel hopeless trying to navigate the world and there's nobody around to help you do that.
And we actually went to Hope. We were driving to Alberta to go see my family but one of my dogs, who has anxiety, would not stop crying. We had to drive back and we decided to stop in Hope.
I was like, maybe Neveah is from here? I took some pictures and saw where all the older houses are and the train tracks and I was like "Yeah. She's from Hope". It's Hopeless in Hope.
While Naveah’s story has a positive ending, there’s another character from the group home, named Misty, whose story is left ambiguous. Why did you decide to leave Misty’s story this way?
Honestly, that happens to a lot of our youth. That happens to a lot of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. You have to wonder where they are. It was a conscious choice to leave readers questioning, where's Misty? Because that happens to kids in real life. We just don't know where they went.
Last question. When writing about such heavy and emotional topics, how do you take care of your own mental and emotional well-being?
Before I answer, I need to say it was such a pleasure to write this book. Because I knew who it was for and I knew it would teach others about the things that children in care or children growing up in poverty are dealing with.
It was like writing through experience–because I was in care for a few years. I sort of had a similar story. It didn't feel like work because it was a labor of love for Neveah, for readers, and for my children as well.
And as for how I take care of myself, I call it "unpeopleing". I set aside time in my calendar where I'm going to "unpeople”. Then I do my favourite things, like watch my favourite show or read. I’ll also have my favourite snacks, which probably isn't the healthiest because it's chips!
Spencer Miller (he/him) is Bibliovideo’s Digital Media Coordinator, as well as a teacher, writer, reader and fan of the Toronto Raptors. Follow his love of YA literature on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.