Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Katie Bayerl

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-three authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!


About Katie Bayerl

When Katie Bayerl isn’t penning stories, she coaches teens and nonprofits to tell theirs. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has taught creative writing in schools and a variety of community settings. She currently leads the VCFA Young Writers Network and teaches classes for teens at GrubStreet. Katie has an incurable obsession with saints, bittersweet ballads, and murder. A Psalm For Lost Girls (spring 2017, Putnam) is her first novel.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramGoodreads

I was 17, book smart, and painfully insecure, a fish out of water at a posh private school where I found room to stretch my mind and exercise my activist aspirations even as I struggled to hide the wounds left by middle school.

Like a lot of authors-to-be, I was most at home in books. I found solace in smart, outspoken misfits like Anne Shirley and Elizabeth Bennett. During my senior year, I discovered a bold heroine who broke me open in a whole new way: Minerva Mirabal.

I was taking a special seminar with Mr. Bardo, a Birkenstock-sporting teacher who said “groovy” unironically and let the f-bombs fly. He taught an entire course about literary characters who stood up against political injustice and oppression.

I know. I was a lucky girl. Very.

I wish I remembered everything we read — or better yet, could take the course again. The one book that stuck with me most was In The Time Of The Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.

Alvarez (who, incidentally, attended the same posh high school and I liked to imagine felt as out of place as me) wrote about a novel about four real sisters from the Dominican Republic, heroines of the resistance against infamous dictator Rafael Trujillo. Minerva was the third sister, a daddy’s girl (like me!). She was smart, outspoken, passionate, and principled (like me!). She wore pants, sassed her mom about religion (again: me!), and definitely didn’t fit into any of the accepted feminine molds like her sisters. Her underground name was Mariposa, butterfly. She risked everything for the resistance, pulling two of her sister into the movement. They were jailed, then murdered, and went on to become international symbols of feminism and social justice.

All of this happened in the 1950s/60s in Santo Domingo. Here I was, a white American girl enjoying incredible privilege in 1990s Massachusetts. Why did Minerva speak to me so deeply? Maybe because, despite our outward differences, Minerva was everything I knew myself to be: strong of mind and bold of heart. Maybe because she stuck to what she knew to be right under the most dangerous circumstances. Maybe because I saw that she felt scared sometimes too.

I loved Minerva Mirabal. I loved her author too.

Alvarez was a gateway author for me, leading me to other Caribbean authors, including Esmeralda Santiago, Paula Marshall, Jamaica Kincaid, and Edwidge Danticat. From there, I branched out to women telling stories of resistance across Latin America and Africa. For the next two decades, these women filled my life with beautiful sentences, sharp social commentary, and characters who spoke to my heart. They transformed me.

I realize this is an unusual experience for a white American woman. I hope that won’t always be true.

Of course, when I first encountered Minerva Mirabal, I had no idea that she’d lead me on this path, or that I’d spend an important chunk of my life in her country, or that I’d visit the home she shared with her sisters.

I certainly never guessed that one day I’d live under a “president” with traits scarily similar to the one she resisted. Here’s the thing: While I admired Minerva deeply, I never envied her that fight. From where I stood, it seemed there was plenty of work to do — plenty of injustice to combat without worrying about profoundly racist, deeply delusional narcissist taking over my homeland.

Sigh.

The good news and the bad? In The Time Of The Butterflies is still a beautiful book and every bit as relevant today as it was when it changed my life.

¡Viva la Mariposa!

Title A Psalm For Lost Girls
Author Katie Bayerl
Pages 363 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Mystery
Published March 14th, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

I’ll Give You The Sun meets True Detective in this brilliant YA debut about saints, sisters, and learning to let go.

Tess da Costa is a saint — a hand-to-god, miracle-producing saint. At least that’s what the people in her hometown of New Avon, Massachusetts, seem to believe. And when Tess suddenly and tragically passes away, her small city begins feverishly petitioning the Pope to make Tess’s sainthood official. Tess’s mother is ecstatic over the fervor, while her sister Callie, the one who knew Tess best, is disgusted—overcome with the feeling that her sister is being stolen from her all over again.

The fervor for Tess’s sainthood only grows when Ana Langone, a local girl who’s been missing for six months, is found alive at the foot of one of Tess’s shrines. It’s the final straw for Callie. With the help of Tess’s secret boyfriend Danny, Callie’s determined to prove that Tess was something far more important than a saint; she was her sister, her best friend and a girl in love with a boy. But Callie’s investigation uncovers much more than she bargained for — a hidden diary, old family secrets, and even the disturbing truth behind Ana’s kidnapping. Told in alternating perspectives, A Psalm For Lost Girls is at once funny, creepy and soulful — an impressive debut from a rising literary star.

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