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  • Our First Book Club Discussion!

    Posted by alyssa-silva on January 17, 2023 at 11:00 am

    The moderators and I are so excited to discuss our first book with you: The First Thing About You by one of our members Chaz Hayden.

    I found it remarkable to read a book whose main character has SMA. I found a lot of similarities in Harris’s experiences when it came to the school system and nursing woes. But having SMA was a secondary plot line. Something I really love about Harris’s character is his love for colors and how he interprets them. Chaz explains in this interview how it was Harris’s way of judging people, in the same way, that people judge him for being disabled. I thought that was an interesting way of portraying it. I hope it made non-disabled readers think twice.

    Did you enjoy the book? In what ways have you related to Harris’s life? Let’s start our first book discussion!

    kevin-schaefer replied 1 year, 4 months ago 6 Members · 14 Replies
  • 14 Replies
  • deann-r

    Member
    January 17, 2023 at 12:22 pm

    I’m excited to get into the book as there’s so many aspects we can talk about. Like you mentioned judgment is a big theme. Throughout the book you can see Harris trying so hard to dispel the instant judgment that oftentimes comes with having a disability. I feel like he uses the colors as somewhat of a coping mechanism. Kind of like you judge me I’ll judge you, what’s your favorite color? I know some people use humor as a coping mechanism. I probably used creativity. Don’t look at me, look at what I’ve made. Did you have a way to deflect or cope with judgment?

    • blake-watson

      Member
      January 17, 2023 at 3:04 pm

      Don’t look at me, look at what I’ve made.

      Oh man this is me 100%.

      • deann-r

        Member
        January 17, 2023 at 6:58 pm

        Harris seemed like a bit of an overachiever to prove himself. Do you find that to be true within the disabled community?

  • mike-b

    Member
    January 17, 2023 at 5:25 pm

    We all make assumptions upon meeting or observing someone for the first time and I thought that Harris’ using color to pass first judgement illustrates how superficial and often wrong these assumptions turn out to be. The high school setting was particularly relatable and effective; so much awkwardness, hormones raging and just wanting to fit in. And I had forgotten about all the lunchroom cafeteria cliques!

    • deann-r

      Member
      January 17, 2023 at 6:55 pm

      Lunchroom was the worst! What I find interesting is that yes, the snap judgment like you said is superficial and oftentimes wrong, but sometimes there’s some truth to it. With Harris every time someone fit the color it reinforced those assumptions. It wasn’t until getting to know Nory he realized maybe his judgments were misguided. So, do we sometimes reinforce assumptions until someone gets to know us?

  • mike-b

    Member
    January 17, 2023 at 7:11 pm

    Adding a few thoughts while the book is still fresh:

    This is one of the first books I’ve read that incorporated the actual text message(s) back and forth between characters right into the script. I really liked the use of the text messages and found it a highly effective means of moving the story along and communicating normal teenage angst over the best text response.

    I appreciated that the story showed Harris doing common teenager activities, albeit in a slightly different manner, such as: movies, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, parties and dates. It provides able-bodied readers an avenue to think about common interests and activities they might share, should they get beyond that first judgement.

    • chaz-hayden

      Member
      January 20, 2023 at 3:36 pm

      Hey Mike, I’m glad you enjoyed how the texts were formatted in the book. That was really intentional and important to me for the page editor to get right so I’m happy you noticed and thought it made a difference.

  • blake-watson

    Member
    January 19, 2023 at 4:06 pm

    SPOILERS!

    I like what turned out to be a controversial story arc with some readers—the PCA crush. Harris obviously likes Nory, but he has an “intimate” relationship with Miranda in that she is with him many hours in deeply personal ways. It’s an easy feeling to develop, especially given the teenage milestones he was going through in the story.

    It was admittedly unhealthy in many ways but that’s what made it interesting. I’ve definitely had crushes on PCAs before. I’m much better at catching that before it starts these days but it’s a thing and I was happy to see it in the story.

    My only complaint about the story—and it’s a minor one—is that I thought Harris was a bit hard on Miranda when she returned. If I read it right she was working with him for free (????), she had just nursed him through a terrible illness, and she thought it was her fault he was hospitalized (because of the marijuana/vape thing). Yes, bailing on him was crappy but when she asked if they could still be friends, he said:

    “Maybe someday,” I said. It was a gentle lie, but so was everything else I’d thought I once had with Miranda.

    Just seemed a little harsh to me. It’s not like their whole friendship was fake, and while Harris made some poor choices, it doesn’t mean they were all Miranda’s fault.

    Anyway, minor gripe.

    The relationship with his family was great. His mom seemed really cool. And the whole thing with Nory was super cute. ????

    I definitely felt seen in many of the situations he found himself in. ???? It read like an authentic account of someone with SMA to me. And I loved that.

    I’d be lying if I said the book didn’t leave me a bit wistful at the end. Made me think about some of the almosts in my life and made me wish I’d made different choices. But that’s life for you. ????

    Having sung the book’s praises, I’ll say it didn’t satiate my hunger for characters with SMA. If anything it made it worse. I’m craving more fiction with SMAers after reading The First Thing About You. Great work, Chaz!

    • alyssa-silva

      Member
      January 19, 2023 at 6:08 pm

      Ok Blake. I’m glad you brought this up because I actually really liked Miranda. Yes, I wanted Harris to end up with Nory in the end. But I kinda thought Miranda was good for him too. I know he made poor choices, but I felt like she really brought him out of his shell. I wish I had someone like that in high school. I was SO shy. ????

      They were almost helping each other out. She was giving him an interesting high school experience. (Yes they weren’t the best choices but we all experience them at some point lol.) And he was helping her heal from losing her best friend. I don’t know. Just my two cents.

      • chaz-hayden

        Member
        January 20, 2023 at 4:01 pm

        You’re exactly right about how Harris and Miranda helped each other! That was the takeaway and understanding I hoped readers had. But that’s also the reason Harris needed to move on. Miranda brought him out of his shell and now he has confidence going forward. And he helped her heal as you said. There wasn’t much left for their relationship because it achieved what it was supposed to. They are now better people because of each other and it’s time to figure out the rest separately.

    • chaz-hayden

      Member
      January 20, 2023 at 3:55 pm

      Dude, I think you totally nailed the dynamic between Harris and Miranda. This makes me really happy. A lot of people who aren’t disabled have a hard time understanding that their relationship is very, very personal. And Harris is 15! It’s so easy as an adult to keep things professional but as a kid, PCAs and nurses become your best friend in some cases. They are somebody you spend a lot of time with. That being said, their relationship is meant to be provocative. But I hope readers can understand that Miranda has a history of making bad decisions and Harris is just happy to have someone feel comfortable enough to confide in him.

      And I appreciate your take on Miranda’s return and how that played out. That scene was worked on and revised the most during the editorial process. I tried everything from a hard no from Harris to even a version where he accepts Miranda back. My publisher and I felt that one of the big plots of the story is Harris’s growth as a person. Although Miranda isn’t to blame for everything she undoubtedly also doesn’t bring out the best in Harris and vice versa. Harris saying no felt too harsh and saying yes felt like he hadn’t learned anything. Him saying, “Maybe someday” is a middle ground that respects what Miranda has done for him and what she might be feeling emotionally as someone who thought she hurt him physically. Harris also follows up with, “You’re going to be a good nurse, just not with me.”

      Stay hungry for more SMA characters. I’m not finished!

      • blake-watson

        Member
        January 20, 2023 at 4:36 pm

        Yeah that makes sense. I can definitely appreciate the work that went into that. <3

        Bro I’ll take all the SMA characters you got. Bring it!

  • mike-b

    Member
    January 20, 2023 at 7:46 am

    I too, liked Miranda’s character and thought for the most part she and Harris were good for each other. I did not like the Miranda ending much either. Depression and addiction are often lifelong battles and illnesses and I felt the story trivialized and minimized what Miranda was going thru.

  • kevin-schaefer

    Member
    January 23, 2023 at 9:26 am

    I  love this discussion! My takeaway from the Harris/Miranda relationship is that I do like that there’s an open-ended layer to it. The “maybe someday” line gave me the sense that they would reconcile eventually, but for now, Harris needed the space. I really like her too, but I respect his decision.

    One thing I really liked was the family dynamics. I related especially to Harris and his mom. I was no doubt a moody teenager and often did a poor job of communicating with my parents, but there was still an inexplicable bond we formed through caregiving and dealing with ableist bs together. I gave my mom the book to read and she loved it.

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