Children of alcoholics experience trauma that is little understood by those who have not grown up in a home with a parent who has the untreated disease of alcoholism. If you are unfamiliar with this concept or would like more information, this link to Coping With an Alcoholic Parent and this to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics can help. This trauma changes the brain of a child and makes him or her more susceptible to substance abuse, which in turn, makes them more susceptible to the five key risk factors for developing alcoholism, themselves. For these reasons, it is imperative we help children understand what is really going on – that it is not them – that they are not the cause of their parents drinking and drinking behaviors. So I was thrilled to learn about Jody Lamb and her new book for tweens, Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool.
The following is a conversation with Jody Lamb, author of Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool, a novel for tweens, about friendship, fitting in, parental alcoholism and the power of hope. Her experience in a family with alcoholics has made her a passionate advocate for children with alcoholic loved ones.
What inspired you to a write a novel for tweens that takes on the subject of parental alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a widespread problem in my large, wonderful family. As a young girl, I thought my loved ones’ excessive, destructive drinking was a problem unique to our family. No one spoke of it, for it was a secret that once told, would surely shame us.
Finally, at 22 years old, when a few of loved ones hit rock bottom in their struggles, I read everything I could find about alcoholism and its effects on families. When I discovered estimates that one in four American kids live with at least one alcoholic or alcohol abusing parent, I cried. I wondered why it remains such a family secret today, in the twenty-first century. I looked for contemporary, relatable books for children on the subject, particularly for tweens because I had family members in that age group who would have greatly benefitted from them. I found few. I thought, “No wonder the cycle continues in families!” That bothered me.
I wrote the story I would have been moved by as a young girl. I know that millions of kids are coping with the destructive effects of alcoholism in their lives. I wanted to create a realistic story that could spark a little hope and conversation. When I created the Easter Ann character, I knew I just had to keep going with the story so I did.
What is Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool about?
Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool is a middle-grade novel for ages 8 to 13 years. It’s about a 12-year-old girl named Easter Ann Peters who has a plan—Operation Cool—to make her seventh grade year awesome and erase years of being known only as a quiet, straight-A student who can’t think of a comeback to her bully. When the confident new girl, Wreni, becomes her long-needed best friend, Easter lets her personality shine. The coolest guy in school takes a sudden interest. But as tough times at school fade away, so does a happy life at home. Easter’s mother is drinking a lot, and Easter works double overtime to keep their secret in the tiny lakeside town. Operation Cool derails, fast, and Easter must discover a solution. Told by the lovable Easter character, it’s a witty, tender and heartwarming story of friendship, fitting in, first crushes and coping with the very common problem of parental alcoholism.
What is the relationship between Easter and her mother?
Easter’s mother is an important character. She is battling alcoholism and her behavior, as a result, is destructive to Easter and other loved ones. I wanted to make sure readers also saw the goodness of Easter’s mother’s heart and that she loves her daughter greatly. I wanted to show that there are wonderful, good people who battle alcoholism. Though alcoholism cause destructive behavior, we must remember the good people they are at heart and embrace hope for their recovery.
The few books for tweens that include parental alcoholism are very dark and difficult to read because you feel so bad for the characters. I wanted to keep the story a lot like life – full of good and bad. Easter is witty and very hopeful. Her struggles with a bully, friendships, crushes and confidence at school are relatable. As she faces the negative effects of her mother’s drinking, she has a very common reaction—she tries to keep it a secret, even though her wellbeing is threatened. She later realizes this does more harm than good, though her intentions were well meaning.
What do you hope readers will take from this story?
For readers with alcoholics in their lives, I hope that they’re reminded that they are not alone and that they’re inspired by Easter’s discovery of the solution to improve her life situation. For readers who do not have alcoholics in their lives, I hope they’ll gain a more solid understanding of what alcoholism is, how it affects others and sensitivity to what their classmates, teammates and neighbors may be coping with at home.
I hope they’ll recognize that alcoholism is a disease.
Now that the novel is published and in the hands of kids, has anything surprised you?
This novel was rejected 30 times by agents and editors. They told me the story and the voice were good but that it’s difficult to sell realistic fiction today. They told it’s the age of vampires and wizard and this topic was not mass-market appealing. Finally, I found a publisher who believed in the story and in my mission.
With one in four kids dealing with alcoholism at home, and based on the overwhelming feedback from kids, families and alcoholics, I’ve learned that books on this subject are even more needed than I’d ever imagined. I’ve heard from people across the country, in Canada and in the U.K. who’ve encouraged me to keep writing on this subject.
What do you think needs to happen to break the cycles?
Lack of awareness about alcoholism and its effects on families is a massive problem—one that’s much bigger than our society seems to acknowledge. The cycle of alcoholism and abuse will continue, unless more effort is made to reach these kids. Fortunately, we’re in the twenty-first century! We have more opportunity than ever to effectively reach young people and families.
I hope that more people like you, Lisa, will step up to help educate people about what alcoholism really is – a disease. We need more respected celebrities and other grownups to talk about how they’ve coped and healed from their experiences with alcoholics. It’s the only way kids will know they’re not alone. There needs to be a whole lot more conversation. Families touched or untouched by alcoholism need to talk about it with their children.
What’s the best part of being an author?
Hands down, the best part of being the author of this book and a vocal advocate about alcoholism awareness, is hearing from the tween readers.
The week the novel was released, I learned that this story had helped a 12-year-old girl whose mother was in treatment. Knowing that the novel had already helped one kid, well, then all of the work writing it, was way more than worth it.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing the sequel to Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool. So much fun! It’s also a middle-grade novel but for a slightly older age group (10-13 years old). I’m also currently writing proposals for several non-fiction books for kids related to coping with alcoholic loved ones. I wish I could clone myself!
How can people connect with you?
I love hearing from people! Please say hello. I have a blog, where I write about life and coping with alcoholism and other tough issues. You can sign up for weekly email. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I’d surely appreciate any help spreading the word about the book.