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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Novel For Middle Schoolers Tackles Body Image, Self Acceptance

 June 13, 2019 at 10:53 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Chris Barron has written a book that's a fictional retelling of his own middle school years. A story that reveals from the inside what it's like to grow up feeling like an outsider struggling to find acceptance and friendship. It's a story told in verse laid out on the page like poetry and the words lead your eye on as the tail and frozen boy coming to terms with the question, who am I? It's called all of me and it's Barron's debut novel. Chris, thank you so much for joining us. So now this is quite a gripping story. It's kind of like a stream of consciousness in verse on the page, who did you write this book for? I wrote it for all the kids out there who are like me, who are really struggling to understand who they are. So much of my own life I was super happy. Speaker 1: 00:45 And then people start attaching labels to you and you know, they start testing you and seeing you know who you're supposed to be and you kind of lose sight of who you are. And so I wrote it for kids who are really coming of age and try and understand their place in the world among their friends, among their family and who they really want to do with their lives. The story is it's such a glimpse into the mind of a middle school boy who's being taunted mercilessly because he's, he's overweight. How close is this to your experience? It's pretty close. One of the reasons I wrote it in versus because I wanted to have them more intimate look at the mind like you said, of a middle schooler because so much of the torment, it really is internal as you come to grips with the way people are treating you. Speaker 1: 01:26 So it's close to my own story. I suffered a lot of discomfort. It was, it was a big struggle for me internally even as my body would change and grow on the outside and maybe if I got more athletic or healthier and society's standards, those feelings of being bullied or harassed or even some self hate early on don't go away necessarily. Even now, you know, it's, there's still memories of that young kid who went through that. What was it that made you realize that your story could help others and that you wanted to write it? I'm having my own middle grade aged kids I think really brought it to the front, hanging out with them and their friends and um, I love being a dad obviously, and just, they love stories. They, they learn so much from everything around them, but they're hungry to hear stories about real life. Speaker 1: 02:14 I mean, they love, you know, Harry Potter and all the other stories of course, because there's so much truth there, but they want to know real stuff about what life is like. And so really they've inspired me to tell this story so much. Yeah. It takes us through areas, the name of your [inaudible], how it changes his relationship to food, his relationship to himself basically. And the turning point when he really starts to take control of his own weight. What would you say is that turning point? It comes in different stages because I think, you know, early on he, he suffers something really terrible that causes him to say, I've got to make a change here. And, and so he does some things he shouldn't do. And then through the help of his family, he, you know, he, they find a diet for him to go on and he thinks this is the right thing to do. Things are gonna change and his friends are with him on this. But I think eventually he discovers that this can't be the answer. It can't be a scripted life of diets. And so I think, you know, and I'm midway through the book, there's this change that this has to be more than about just dieting has to be about self acceptance in some way. Speaker 2: 03:19 Could you read us a passage? There's one which you talk about level three, which is in fact about the time that he's on. But go ahead and read that for us. Speaker 1: 03:26 Sure. Level three, at the start of August, I've lost 30 pounds. All the biking and swimming is changing me to the insides of my thighs are a straight line all the way to my knees. But most of all when I see myself in the mirror or a store window, I noticed my jaw is smooth. Just one chin, my Chin at the end where it's supposed to be. My mother asked me if I'm ready for level three. I'm supposed to eat more carbs now I'm supposed to stress my body with food tested, stress it, I don't want to, I'm tired. Berries, cherries, melons, orange pair, a small banana. The book says they may soon experience uncontrollable cravings, but I've come so far. How could it get any worse? Speaker 2: 04:14 So you, you really take us through the process of the struggle really are kind of changing your identity just through changing what you eat. Yeah. Um, what, what would you say helps already come to that place that you reach in the book of self acceptance? Speaker 1: 04:27 I think that sudden independence over the summer. Um, because in the book, um, with all the struggles at home with his family and kind of being whisked away to this summer, I'm in the bay area at Stinson Beach, he is, you know, with his friends, his mother is occupied by her artist's life and he has this kind of sudden independence to experience adventure and, and he's trying to stick to the Diet and he's trying to think about his spiritual life and his friends were encouraging him and so he takes it upon himself to make a change. And it's the first time in his life that he's tried to do that. And I think a lot of middle school kids start to experience that at that age they start to become more independent. And that's where some of the real changes, the internal self changes sink in. And so I think with Ari seeing himself being able to do things that he's never done before, you start to accept that maybe he can do things. Speaker 2: 05:21 He's got a very good friend, girlfriend Lisa, who's very supportive as she kind of a role model of how to help somebody come to terms and accept themselves. Speaker 1: 05:28 I think she is, I think she's a role model. She is a model of independence. Um, she has her own struggles but this is a very loving person. She really cares about Ari even as she struggles with their own stuff. And so I think he sees her and he, you know, he wants to be like her. He certainly cares for her quite a bit and you know, she's an important part of the book to show him you kind of the, you can do anything. She also really cares about him unconditionally and that's an important part of the story for him. Speaker 2: 05:53 Using, we spend more time worrying or thinking about girls with their, Speaker 1: 05:58 their body image then we do for boys peps. Boys need more attention on that. More help. I think everybody needs attention and more help on this. I think that boys are often overlooked in this body image area. I think boys really need help and resources to deal with. Some of these things are quite often even my own experience we kind of turn to a boys will be boys attitude that they've just got to suck it up and deal with it. If they want to change, they should just work out eat right. Um, but boys struggle the same way as anyone else in the body image issues. And I, I'm really hoping, I mean some data says, you know, one third of kids deal with weight issues, body image issues and it's probably more than that. And I think boys are at the heart of that. Speaker 1: 06:38 The way that you wrote it in verse really guides your eye. You, it's very hard to start reading. It really flows. And you're an English professor at City College. Have you found that working with your students on writing in verse helps them to get to the heart of their story? Without a doubt. First of all, it's one of the best jobs ever and I learned so much from my students all the time. And it's true. There is an emotional level that comes with writing poetry and an intimacy that comes, uh, getting to the heart of the matter using port at craft that you don't have time to elaborate, you know, in the long way. You have to find the heart of the matter and explore it figuratively with images. It's wonderful. And I, I certainly think of over the years of experience a lot of that with my students. Well, Chris, thanks so much for writing the book and coming in and talking about it. Thank you for having me. I've been speaking with Chris Barron, who is author of the book, all of me, and we'll be discussing and signing his book on Saturday at two o'clock at mysterious galaxy books in Clairemont Mesa.

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In a fictional retelling of his own middle school years, San Diego City College English professor Chris Baron shares his struggle to find friendship and acceptance.
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