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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Young People Need Hope and Heroes
May 10, 2015

After spending several years studying to be a screenwriter, Joan Bauer signed with a big talent agency in New York City. Two days later, she endured a debilitating car accident that left her in a great deal of pain and requiring neurosurgery. Angry and scared, she remembers lying in bed and imagining that she saw an open window with her dream of being a writer flying out of it.

Then, Bauer heard a voice inside giving her ideas for a story about a young girl with a big dream. The voice said, “You can write this. It’s not over for you.” Considering she had trouble even sitting at a desk, Bauer believed this to be impossible. But as she told me during a “Christopher Closeup” interview, “Moment by moment and paragraph by paragraph, I wrote my first young adult novel and it ended up winning a big award.”

That novel was the first of 12 books she has now authored for a young adult audience. Along the way, her novels have won two Christopher Awards, and this year she was named the winner of the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Library Association. All those accomplishments can be traced back to that small voice that she almost wrote off as nonsense, the voice that taught her about the presence of God in our lives.

Bauer explained, “When we open ourselves up to that power that is beyond who we are and we let God have His way, let Him have our disappointments yet still believe that there’s something good, that’s what [life] has been for me again and again.”

In light of her past struggles, hope and faith are common threads in Bauer’s books. That holds true for her latest novel too despite its serious subject matter: human trafficking. “Tell Me” is the story of Anna McConnell, a funny and compassionate 12-year-old who briefly runs into a girl that looks very stressed out and is being controlled by an older woman with a bad attitude. Not everyone buys into Anna’s suspicions at first, but Bauer makes sure her young heroine sticks to her moral core and says, “I saw something wrong. I’m not going to give up until somebody believes me.” Ultimately, it’s discovered that the girl Anna saw is being kept as a slave along with many other women. Everyone comes together to put an end to this travesty.

Bauer handles the topic in an age appropriate way, so it doesn’t deal with sexual slavery but rather people who are being enslaved as workers. When figuring out how to approach young people with such a harsh reality, she turned to a story she once heard Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” tell: “When he was a boy and something frightening happened in his community or the world, he would go to his mother and she would tell him, ‘Don’t look at the scary thing; look at the people who are helping.’ This is a story about a scary thing, but we don’t see it. It’s about the people who are running in to help.”

Bauer also remains committed to using her talents to bring hope into young people’s lives. She concludes, “Kids have become very jaded. They’ve seen a lot of role models fall. And yet, one of the reasons that I love thinking about stories through the eyes of a young person is there’s still this idealism. There’s still this positive core… When [kids] find something that has hope, I think they really want to grab onto it. So let’s give them more.”

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, LISTENING WHEN GOD SPEAKS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org