Today it is my pleasure to feature one of the most remarkable books I’ve read so far this year. THE GRAY by Chris Baron. Stay tuned for my interview with Chris.
Here’s my review for the book:
An authentic and relatable story that addresses what it’s like to have anxiety and a hyper-sensitive nature. The thirteen-year-old protagonist, Sasha, works hard to cope with his anxiety and the bullying he faces at school. We get a firsthand account of all that Sasha goes through to manage his anxiety. Baron handles all the mental health aspects of the story in a thoughtful and compassionate way, assuring readers that they are not alone in their struggles. By sharing our feelings – even the dark ones – we can find help and connection with others. Friendship has the power to heal. Talking about our struggles, instead of hiding them, forges a deeper understanding of what many of us face each day. An important message and valuable addition to books with mental health themes. Highly Recommended.
Now for the interview:
What led you to write a story with mental health themes like we find in THE GRAY?
I didn’t start out thinking that I was writing a book about “mental health.” I mainly imagined it as an adventure/coming of age story, but as I wrote, it quickly became clear that I would be going deep into these themes. In the Author’s note at the end of The Gray, I talk about my own experiences with anxiety. That’s a start, but also, I’ve noticed that many of my students are experiencing, and thankfully having the courage to share, mental health difficulties. According to the American Psychological Association, “20.5% of youth worldwide now struggle with anxiety symptoms.” Too often-kids who experience anxiety of any kind are not diagnosed or even helped. Kids don’t always know what to do. From pandemic stress, reliance on technology and information overload, to everyday family struggles, lots of kids and their families are facing stressors they never have before. We need help from family, friends, and many times professionals to help us make it through these challenges. I know this is true from my own struggles, and I think I wanted to offer this to readers as well.
This book is a departure from your novels in verse. Was it easier or more difficult to write Sasha’s story in prose? How did you decide on this format?
It was much more difficult to write in prose. As I’ve mentioned other times–poetry feels like a native language to me. I see stories in images, and that’s perfect for writing poetry. I drafted most of The Gray in verse (excellent advice from my editor) but The Gray felt different in the process of drafting–more details–more exploration of setting, plot, character, and themes. It seemed to journey on its own down the winding path of prosaic narration. It was clear to me that this book is meant to be written in prose. But some of the best prose is lyrical, and it utilizes the joys of poetic conversion and strategies. I hope that’s true for The Gray.
What kind of research was required to write from such a compassionate and authentic POV?
Like most writers, I did endless research. Even though much of the story and setting is based on my own experiences, I researched everything from mental health issues to horseback riding, to species of trees and animals in the setting of the story. I even had a mental health professional consultant work with me on the book–she even diagnosed Sasha. It’s just a huge part of my writing process. I also looked through thousands of pictures from my time living on the horse farm.
What would you hope readers take away from THE GRAY?
I hope that readers will meet Sasha, and through his story, not only feel seen and heard, but know that it is okay to need help. I want students to discover the many practical ways they can face anxiety themselves, and to feel supported so they know they are not alone!
I hope readers enjoy a story full of suspense, adventure, supernatural mysteries, unexpected friendships, and quiet family strength.
I hope readers will find connection (or learn more) about Jewish Heritage and spirituality, multi-generational families, and finding the quiet, lighted paths on the journey to be their most authentic selves.
Finally, I hope readers will believe that “even the smallest drop of water can change the largest stone.” Slow change over time makes anything possible.
Anything else you want us to know?
As an author, I love to connect with readers, and I am happy to visit any book clubs, classes, or anything we dream up. Please feel free to reach out at chris-baron.com
I am happy to do a giveaway! And if it’s alright with you–here is the preorder link for signed copies.
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post. Darlene will choose one name at random and announce the winner later this month. US only, please.
Chris Baron is the award winning author of Novels for young (and young at heart) readers including All Of Me an NCTE Notable Book, The Magical Imperfect a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book/ a SLJ Best Book of 2021 & the forthcoming novels, The Gray (23) Forest Heart (24) from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and The Secret of the Dragon Gems, a Middle Grade novel co-authored with Rajani LaRocca from Little Bee Books (23) and editor of ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS: A MIDDLE GRADE PASSOVER ANTHOLOGY, from Abrams (24), He is a Professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. He grew up in New York City, but he completed his MFA in Poetry in 1998 at SDSU. HE lives in San Diego with his family.