116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
“Since arriving in Colorado, it seemed as if Ava had forgotten how to tell the truth.
Or even what the truth was.
If she didn’t stop, what kind of person would she become?”
Kellye Crocker’s debut middle grade novel, “Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties,” (upcoming release Sept. 1, Albert Whitman & Co., ages 9-12, $17.99) introduces readers to Ava, a 12-year old Iowa girl celebrating the last day of her sixth grade school year with her two best friends. It isn’t exactly a carefree celebration though, because the next day her dad is taking her — kidnapping her against her will, more like it — for a two-week trip.
Just one month before, Ava was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder after suffering a panic attack at Field Day. As if the world’s normal dangers weren’t enough, now Ava not only has to meet “The Girlfriend” of her dad and her daughter, Z (Mackenzie), she has to do it in one of the most dangerous states in the union: Colorado! Mountains to slip off of, falling rocks to crush you, bears and mountain lions that attack, and rabid ground squirrels that carry plague! So much to worry about! But, the biggest worry of all for Ava is just how serious her dad and The Girlfriend are. And, the even more painful worry … Does her dad love The Girlfriend even more than he loves her?
It doesn’t take long after arriving in Colorado for Ava to learn from Z that Ava’s dad has planned events without telling Ava, things he would know will intensify her fears and anxiety. Things he should have told her about. This is so unlike her dad. Ava decides to do all she can to foil his plans, no matter how much unhappiness it causes for her dad, The Girlfriend, and Z. Yet, all of her plotting and manipulations come with a cost. She has lost her footing for being the kind soul she is, learning that fear can do awful things to change you. Will she find her way back to herself and to her dad, or will Colorado and The Girlfriend ruin them and their special relationship?
Novelist Kellye Crocker was a longtime Iowan herself. Raised in Ames, she went off to study journalism elsewhere, but returned to Des Moines for 26 years, working at the Register and publishing articles in various media outlets, all while raising her family. A move to Denver, Colorado a few years ago was not on her radar at a time when she was struggling with some health issues as well as struggling with her writing, all causing her own anxieties to skyrocket. Without realizing it, she had lost the joy she once found in writing. A friend encouraged her to find it again by taking a playful approach. Crocker took her friend’s advice to heart and started a story about an Iowa girl who doesn’t want to visit Colorado.
“I had great fun exploring the state with Ava, and I fell in love with Colorado, like everyone does, and it tickled me to write Ava’s contrarian view,” Crocker says.
Ava’s contrarian view tickled this reviewer, too. Although both Ava and Z expose their own very real and difficult growing pains, Crocker deftly shows us a middle grader’s heart and mind using humor in a way that will connect and endear middle grade readers to these characters, as well as help adult readers remember the not-so-fun parts of growing up themselves.
Crocker is highly passionate about young people and is a faculty member for Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Young Writers Program, a program that nurtures the next generation of writers. Her advice to young writers is:
- Take a playful attitude with writing, especially in early drafts.
- Don’t write what you think you’re supposed to (unless it’s an assignment for school, of course).
- Write what sounds fun.
- Experiment. See what happens.
Crocker believers our freshest, most original writing comes when we bring our full selves — in all our weirdness — to our stories. No matter what your dream is, do not to give up, she says, offering this secret: It’s easier to persevere when your goal is challenging, yet also fun.
Two more tips: Read, read, read, and write, write, write! Time spent doing both is never wasted, she says.
Watch for the upcoming release of “Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties” on Sept. 1, as well as Crocker’s future event dates for readings and signings in and around Iowa. More about Kellye Crocker can be found on her website, kellyecrocker.com.
Wendy Henrichs is a children's author living in Iowa City.