Ruth Behar

Ruth Behar, author of Lucky Broken Girlkicks off our Girls of Summer List author interviews this year. We are so pleased to share a bit of her and her character’s journeys from brokenness to hopefulness.  Ruth offers beautiful reminders of the strength of vulnerability and the power of gratitude.

Ruth Behar headshot by Gabriel Frye-BeharStrong girls… are broken girls who have found their strength.

Why do you think the main character in your book represents a strong girl?

There are many definitions of a strong girl. A lot of girls who are strong weren’t always strong. They had to find their strength. They had to choose to be strong.

Ruthie, the main character in my book, is not strong when the story begins. She has a lot of self-confidence, but that is not the same as being strong. Recently arrived from Cuba with her family, she has learned English well enough to impress her teacher. She is sure of her body and so good at hopscotch that her friends have named her the Hopscotch Queen of Queens.

Her self-confidence shatters when she ends up in a body cast, bedridden for a year after surviving a terrible car accident. At the age of ten, Ruthie suffers the indignity of being helpless, having to depend on her mother and other family and friends to take care of her. Wallowing in self-pity and painfully lonely, she gradually finds the inner strength to overcome this terrible period in her life. She turns to books and art for inspiration. Unable to physically move, she takes a journey with her heart, listening to the stories of those around her, developing empathy for others, and coming to understand that she is not the only one suffers.

Ruthie is a broken girl who learns that she is whole person even before she rises from her bed. She learns that to be strong you must accept your vulnerability. She learns that letting others help you to heal is not a sign of weakness. She learns that to be a strong girl you need a village—family and friends and teachers who care. To be a strong girl is to remember to say thank you.

What compelled you to write about the topic/character in your book?

My book is based on my life. Like Ruthie, I was in a body cast and bedridden for a year. That was an experience I could never forget. It made me the person I am today. Trauma is something you carry with you forever. I’d wanted to write the story for a long time. But several decades passed before I found the way to tell it. Rather than writing it as a memoir, with the adult woman looking back on her girlhood, I needed to inhabit the body of the girl again, to feel what she felt. When I sat down to write as Ruthie, the story came with great force. I knew I was on the right track when I could hear Ruthie speaking to me. I extended a hand back to the girl I’d been and that girl gripped it and pulled me back into the experience and allowed me to relieve it a second time on paper.

I was writing about a very specific situation, but I dared to think the theme of brokenness would be relevant to readers. Following one of my first presentations of the book, at a sixth-grade class in a public school in Salt Lake City, the teacher told me the girls in the class said the book spoke to them because they felt broken. Ruthie’s story gave them hope that they too would find ways to become whole and strong.

How can girls become literary citizens–people who intentionally use words and story to promote goodwill in their lives, community and world?

Girls can become literary citizens by reading, sharing books, writing, and creating communities where they feel safe and can speak their mind. Finding a way to use words everyday, even in small ways, is a good thing, whether it’s writing a thank-you note, keeping a journal, or memorizing the lyrics of a favorite song or the lines of a beautiful poem. When I was young, I kept a journal where I wrote down quotations from authors I loved. I could go back to those chosen words for solace and inspiration. Understanding that words have consequences—they can uplift or they can wound, they can be formed into a prayer or a curse—is one of the most important lessons to learn when you are young. Becoming responsible for the words you use in speech and in writing is how you become a compassionate literary citizen.

What is your dream for this book or your writing life more broadly?

My dream for this book is that it will offer hope to girls who feel broken—and to boys too, and even to adults who are carrying wounds, scars, and traumas from their youth. I’d love for my book to inspire others to tell their own stories of how they have found their strength. Telling your story is the first step toward healing and helping others to heal.

Regarding my writing life, I hope to keep improving my skills as a writer. I am always struggling to write more freely and dangerously. I want to keep on taking risks in my writing, exploring different ways that strong girls find strength in their vulnerability.

What is the greatest challenge facing aspiring writers and do you have any advice on how to get past it?

We live in an age of tremendous distraction. Concentrating on any task, whether it’s reading or writing or studying, is incredibly difficult because of the temptation to check emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest. As writers we have to work extra hard to create compelling stories, written with so much heart and intelligence that the reader can’t put them down. How to deal with this writing challenge? Read a lot and learn from your favorite authors, keep writing past the doubts and the rejections, and have faith that you are the only one who can tell your story and it is worthy of being told.

luckyBrokenGirl

Read our Lucky Broken Girl review.