I wrote UnderStory as a cautionary reaction to the unkindness and misperceptions I see in my little sphere. When I befriended a young mom of another culture who had recently moved in, I listened to the way she seemed to purposefully pick out circumstances to criticize either about our customs or how she and her children were treated. When I supervised a playground some years ago I watched how the children chose playmates and activities, how they spoke to each other and shared important information they had gleaned from the conversation of adults and other young people in an effort to learn how to align themselves. We all grow up with our biases. We cannot escape them.
In my book, Lily knows her father and brother’s job offer is too good to be true. She knows their hearts are not in the right places. She knows people will be hurt no matter what she chooses to do. But how can she know who to trust? Her friend Kingston is anti-establishment. Her rescuer is an unknown with a reputation for trouble. Lily was born with a deformity that doesn’t show on the outside, but her stepmother used it as a psychological weapon to demean her until she knew she had to hold people at arm’s length or she’d be cast out. Cam Taylor puts people on a pedestal first, watching to see which way they fall. Sure, he knows his grandma taught him all the right things about God and how to behave, but when all it gets him is bitten, why bother continuing to do right? Every mean look, every snub, every bump in the road is because he’s black, right?
Two people with perceived impurities—one on the inside, one on the outside. Their perceptions caused them to prejudge everyone else’s bad hair days, growly moods, argument with the spouse, spilled coffee, bank error, fear and phobia as a personal reaction toward them. Cam and Lily had to decide who they were living for, that life wasn’t just about themselves, and that Grandma Bonnie was right—how we feel about God is usually what comes out in the way we treat others.
Circumstances and events are only a matter of perception. Even reading fiction is a matter of how willing we are to suspend our disbelief. The point is how we treat others because of and despite who we are. We cannot always be reactionary people.
This is not my usual type of book, and it’s maybe even borderline Christian since we don’t see Cam helping Lily discover that faith in God trumps even love, but it’s there, between the lines. I don’t want to whitewash the harshness of prejudice with my personal brand of Christianity. More than anything, I want to create some good discussion about why people treat each other the way they do, and make the ground fertile for planting seeds.