Thanks to the pandemic, contemporary fiction writers face a new challenge: what will the world be like when/if my book gets published two or three years from now?
As I write my current work-in-progress, people are wearing masks and not gathering in large groups. Will that be the case when my book finally comes out? Will things be “back to normal”? Or will there be a “new normal”?
Eric Walters and Orca Books dealt with this problem by publishing Don’t Stand So Close To Me in record setting time. The result is a book that’s firmly grounded in the reality of pandemic life, specifically March of 2020, when much of North America first went into lock down.
The book opens with 8th grader Quinn and her friends planning a school dance. There is not much plot or character development, other than the pandemic itself and how it affects their lives. Walters uses his characters to explain things like exponential growth and flattening the curve in a way that middle graders will understand. He also shows them dealing with things readers will relate to like anxiety, not being able to see family (Quinn’s dad is a doctor who sleeps in the basement), and home learning.
The characters are almost too good to be true, following the rules and supporting each other in various ways. But they provide very astute observations. Here’s my favorite quote from Quinn’s next door neighbor and classmate, Isaac:
School has almost nothing to do with school
Don’t Stand So Close To Me is a short book that does a great job of capturing the early days of the panic, from toilet paper shortages and protestors who believe the virus is fake to school closures and lockdowns in long term care facilities. I won’t give away the ending except to say that the characters find a way to make the best of the situation… safely… despite the pandemic. It provides a good entry point for discussion about the pandemic and its affect on all of us while providing a great snapshot of a moment in time.
I must admit, though, I look forward to the day when this book is considered historical fiction.