#FridayReads and Writing Advice

A week ago I went to the library to get my library card renewed, and of course I couldn’t leave without a book. I wandered through the young adult and children’s section because I really enjoy those stories, and I saw a young adult novel titled Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas. It was displayed face out and the cover, as well as the title intrigued me. Then I paged through it and was hooked.

Book cover: Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened.  Young boy standing in front of a park bench set against the background of barren trees and snow. His reflection is in part of the lake that has melted.


A poignant story of a boy picking up the pieces of his life after the unexpected death of his father, and the loyalty, concern, and friendship he finds in his small-town community.

Justin doesn’t know anything these days. Like how to walk down the halls without getting stared at. Or what to say to Jenni. Or how Phuc is already a physics genius in seventh grade. Or why Benny H. wanders around Wicapi talking to old ghosts. He doesn’t know why his mom suddenly loves church or if his older brother, Murphy, will ever play baseball again. Or if the North Stars have a shot at the playoffs. Justin doesn’t know how people can act like everything’s fine when it’s so obviously not. And most of all, he doesn’t know what really happened the night his dad died on the train tracks.

And that sucks.

But life goes on. And as it does, Justin discovers that some things are just unknowable. He learns that time and space and memory are grander and weirder than he ever thought, and that small moments can hold big things, if you’re paying attention. Just like his math teacher said, even when you think you have all the information, there will be more. There is always more.

Set during the Gulf War era, Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened is a story about learning to go on after loss, told with a warmth that could thaw the coldest Minnesota lake.


Reading the wonderful story reminded me of why I have always enjoyed young adult fiction. Especially books aimed for the upper middle grade readers. The stories often address so many of the things that are difficult in the lives of young teens, like belonging, recognizing a budding sexuality, bullying, school violence, and sometimes personal trauma.

Right from the first chapter, that I read while in the library, I knew I was going to love taking this journey with Justin. Losing a parent at a young age is always so hard, and when it could’ve been suicide, but then maybe not, added a level of angst to the young teen’s effort to come to terms with what life should be like now for him and his mother and brother.

Nothing about the grief process, or the sometimes thoughtless responses by some of Justin’s classmates, as well as some adults, was sugarcoated in this story, and my heart ached for Justin; also for his brother and mother. The dynamic of sometimes coming together in mutual sadness or other times pulling away, maybe in anger, is exactly how it often happens in families, and it’s never easy.

What’s wonderful about reading about what all is involved with grieving such a significant loss in fiction is the eventual character, and story, arc that takes us to places where we can smile for a moment with a sense of satisfaction that life will not continue to be as horrible as it was in the beginning of the narrative.

I smiled a lot as Justin interacted with his family, Jenni, Phuc, and Benny H. They all had unique and special ways of carrying Justin through his maze of feelings and bringing him to the smiley places, even when that intent was below the surface of the scenes. A book populated with characters that are so relatable and endearing is always high on my list of favorite reads.

This one is, and I highly recommend it. Dip your toe into reading YA fiction and see what a joy it can be.


 At the end of the book the author wrote a note about her process of writing which was to try to enter into the life of this thirteen-year-old boy and see his world through his eyes. To go to the places where he would go and try to be present with him there.

I love that approach to writing. Reading her note, I thought about the time I was doing research for one of my books. It was the first mystery set in and around, Dallas, Doubletake, and I drove around downtown Dallas to find just the right place to set my characters in a scene. When I found the old house that I needed, I parked and thought about the protagonist, Barbara, being there and the whole scene came alive in my mind. It’s not unlike what happens with filmmaking when a director, cinematographer, and a location scout meet to find the perfect spot for the perfect shot for the perfect moment in a movie. (At least that’s what my filmmaking friends have told me.)

In her author note, Emily mentions a quote from Martha Graham a dancer and choreographer who once said: “There is a vitality, a life force, and energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is or how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. “

That was followed by Emily writing: “I am convinced that all of us have a creative spark, whether it’s expressed through dance or writing or inventing or painting or building or singing or some other way. I hope you will have faith in yours, will rest assured of its uniqueness and importance, will cultivate it and trust it. I hope you’ll keep the channel open. And I can’t wait to see what you’ll do in the world.”

The author note was obviously aimed for a young person reading this story, but don’t they apply to anyone at any age? I think of musicians and dancers and visual artists and writers who’ve all embraced their creativity in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

All it takes is an openness to to the creativity, as Emily said.

So what about you? Are you willing to take the leap into something that will bring you creative joy? Do let me know in the comments.

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