This post was written by Catherine Bakewell, author of Flowerheart and is sponsored by Harper360.
When I start a new story for young readers, one of the first questions I ask myself is “What did young Catherine need to hear? What did she need to learn about?”
One book was the love letter to introverts that I needed as a kid. One was like a note through time, written to my frightened, insecure self, telling her, you can listen to your own voice.
Flowerheart, my debut young adult novel, felt bigger than either of them.
My family, and the culture I grew up in, spoke little about mental health problems. Yes, I could point to them in my family tree, but we didn’t talk about depression. And a part of me understands that. Seeing the monster in the first place is the scariest part.
When I started at university, I went to a career counselor. I was there to figure out what I should study. Five minutes into the conversation, with a whole future’s worth of worries building and building and swirling inside of me, I burst into tears.
“I think I need the real counselor,” I said between sobs.
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They shuffled me down the hallway to the therapist’s office and through a symbolically appropriate doorway into my future. I was on the way towards my own Hero’s Journey, where I would fight my anxiety, and deny it, and then, one day, come to see it as part of myself. This was the road that I wanted to share with my younger self; with my readers. I wanted to say, “Look. The path is hard but the fight is worth it.”
The protagonist of Flowerheart is sixteen-year-old Clara Lucas, a young witch-in-training. On the surface, she is warm and bubbly and gregarious. She is bursting with energy, she loves to talk to new people, and most of all, she is driven by a deep desire to help others.
But inside her head is a loud voice, pointing out her every failure. It pushes her thoughts to coil in tight spirals, from “what if I ruin this spell” to “what if I never succeed” to “I’m going to fail and I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked for.”
In Flowerheart, magic is connected to one’s own heart. A spell is cast or a potion is made when connecting to an emotion, any emotion, that one is feeling. Clara’s teachers make this sound fairly simple, and often suggest keeping her feelings repressed and subdued, so that she is the one in control – but this backfires. The more she tries to ignore them, the more her emotions get bigger and bigger. Clara’s magic ties her stomach in knots, makes her palms sweat, makes her cry, makes her dizzy. She has this part of her she cannot manage, this part of her that she can no longer ignore.
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Her childhood friend, Xavier, has grown up to be a certified magician, and serves as Clara’s mentor. His approach to casting spells involves embracing any emotion, even the “ugly” feelings like fear or anger or sadness. In the story, the techniques he teaches her about regulating her emotions are the same ones I learned about in therapy. Breathing in like smelling a rose, exhaling like blowing out a candle. Being aware of every inch of your body, starting from your head slowly down to your toes. Finding a safe place to shout or a creative outlet to release your emotions.
I wanted to tackle these often dark and serious ideas in a world that felt safe. A world where the characters felt like your friends. A place where my readers didn’t feel preached at, and in a setting that was so different from real life. In Clara’s world, her emotions make flowers bloom. Her story takes place during a tranquil summer, and there are meadows and festivals and magical houses.
Flowerheart started as a conversation with myself. In our fast-moving and distractible world, I hope that this story about looking our own emotions in the eye will give my readers the courage to do the same. To feel their emotions and to put them into words – and, even better, to ask for help, should they need it. At the very least, I hope it serves them as a safe, sunlit refuge, bursting with flowers and with hope.
Get your copy of Flowerheart by Catherine Bakewell here.