I was given the great privilege of getting to read the novel, Spillworthy, by Johanna Harness, which was released the first week of May and I have the honor to spill about it.
Spillworthy follows Ulysses Samuel Finch and his journal-writing friends, each of whom is journaling for different reasons, but all are searching for someone they have lost in their lives. The story is woven together in the form of journal entries, as they read each other’s journals they leave hidden out in the woods. Some words are for private journals, and others are written spillworthy.
From the beginning I was hooked, eager to hear what Ulysses would discover next and how he would share his beloved words in a manner worth spilling. The author defines it: “A spillworthy is an idea so good that it has to be shared and ten-year-old Ulysses Finch doesn’t let being homeless get in his way”.
Ulysses knows that without a home, he cannot drag around his journals, so he finds used pizza boxes or pieces of paper on which to spread his spillworthy ideas and believes that whoever finds his words was meant to find them.
The author brilliantly follows the personal journeys of each of the children, and how the intersect to enrich, help and ultimately save each other’s lives from evil.
Tackling the sad reality of human trafficking, this book will provide a forum to discuss not only ‘stranger danger’ types of scenarios, but also abuse in many different forms that a child may not understand why they recognize it as evil.
In my book Released: A True Story of Escape from an Abusive Marriage, I recognize that one reason I got caught up in a relationship of being controlled and abused was that I had had little to no exposure to it as a child and did not know what questions to even ask.
At times while reading Spillworthy, I smiled, remembering my own 10 year old journals, and how I often felt the pages were the only ones listening. I found myself wishing that I had been able to articulate my fears and needs in the same way that Ulysses, Gem and Estella do.
For any parent searching for a way to have a crucial conversation with your children about the realities of behavior that leads to abuse and very real dangers of human trafficking, Spillworthy would be an excellent vehicle to begin that conversation. At the end of the book, she provides Discussion Topics and Activities for Book Clubs and Classrooms that would also be great to use for family meetings to elicit discussion.
I follow the author, Johanna Harness on Twitter and Facebook and am an unabashed fan of her writing in all venues. This particular book evokes memories of Morgan’s Passing by Anne Tyler, leaving me longing to meet with the characters and to know what happens next. With her debut offering here, I am a lifelong fan.
Since she and I live far too many miles apart, we are having a virtual tea party to discuss her book and I thought it might intrigue you to read along as if you had found our two journals in the woods.
Q1: I guess I’ll start with the archetypal question… where did you get this brilliant idea of spillworthy stories?
A1: I’d written quite a few young adult stories, and my younger kids started asking, “what about us?” So I wrote a few shorter, middle-grade pieces, and found it really rewarding. Kids in that 8-12 age range are incredibly receptive, and open with their responses. I started Spillworthy as a bit of a challenge to myself. Could I talk about issues I address in young adult books in a way that would be appropriate for a younger audience? The response from early readers blows me away. There are some kids out there who are hungry to talk about serious issues. They love that adults take them seriously enough to discuss difficult topics.
Q2: I understand you have 6 children and you homeschool them all (lucky kids!). Do you have your kids write spillworthys? Have you in the past and/or will you in the future?
A2: This makes me smile. My kids are incredibly busy and people always think I have more than I do. I once video-conferenced with someone who was convinced I must have 12 kids because there was always some activity going on behind me. The truth is I have only three kids–a small family compared to many of the homeschoolers in our area. And yes! They started doing spillworthies of their own. My youngest started soon after she read the book. She wrote her best words on the lid of a pizza box lid and left it propped up as we were leaving a hotel. Then my son thought it was so cool he wanted to do his own too. It takes a lot of bravery to release your words into the world!
Q3: How do you think a parent could use your book as a catalyst to have a sensitive conversation with their children about the realities of evil and abuse in the world?
A3: I’d really like to see more parents reading books with their kids. Stories provide an easier way to discuss difficult issues. It’s much more comfortable to talk about characters in a book (and their decisions) than it is to talk about our actual kids or their friends. When we open a door to talking about tough issues, kids are more likely to ask questions when they arise. They see us as receptive to their concerns.
Q4: I believe you have written just enough on the subject without giving too graphic of details that a young adult may not wish to read. Was there a real life incident in Idaho that led you to write the story? Or how did you know it was time to share this with your own kids?
A4: There are too many stories in the news–and they keep happening. None of my writing is specifically based on any one situation, but I can’t go a week without seeing something pop up in the news that reminds me all these issues are important and relevant.
I’m looking forward to more from her! You can buy the book on Amazon and then let us know what you think!
What questions do you have for Johanna?