With Her Parents Divorcing, A Child Makes 'The List Of Things That Will Not Change'
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
As this pandemic unfolds, we are all taking stock of what's radically changing and surrendering to those changes. We are also yearning for some things to remain exactly the same, for better or for worse. And as we look for books to take comfort in, there is one that could not be more perfect, especially if you're in grade school. It's called "The List Of Things That Will Not Change." It tells the story of Bea and when she's 8, her parents divorced, but they wanted to reassure her that many of the great things in her life will not change, so they all start a list of those things.
REBECCA STEAD: (Reading) No. 1 - Mom loves you more than anything, always. No. 2 - Dad loves you more than anything, always.
CHANG: And Bea keeps adding to this list of things that will not change, even as so many things do. That was author Rebecca Stead, who joins me now to talk about her new book.
STEAD: Hi. Thank you. It's great to be here.
CHANG: Bea, who's the main character in this story, I mean, she's such a rich character. She's a fifth-grader when the book opens who deals with sometimes paralyzing anxiety. She has trouble controlling her temper. I mean, she has eczema on top of that. I'm curious - as you were shaping her character in your head, what were you going for? Why did you make Bea the way she is?
STEAD: From the very beginning here, it was really clear to me that Bea's story was going to be a really gentle one in the sense that it's very much a story about ordinary life. But I also wanted her to be a character with a really deep and powerful emotional life because that is really how I remember childhood. Kids don't have a lot of world experience, but they have a ton of experience when it comes to emotion.
STEAD: My guiding light was the idea that inner life and emotion is really powerful and sometimes mysterious. But ultimately, it's something precious and something that we should not be afraid of or ashamed of.
CHANG: I love the way you put that and, I mean, in so many ways, you bring that inner life of Bea and the power of her emotion to life by just looking at the relationship she has with her therapist. It was so interesting watching that relationship evolve because there was a lot of push-pull between Bea and her therapist, Miriam. How do you think the relationship with a therapist is different for a child than it is for an adult?
STEAD: I think that when I was writing the relationship between Bea and Miriam, my focus was really on the idea of acceptance and the idea of understanding emotion instead of trying to sort of deflect it, which is what I think that many of us do even as adults. Sort of if you feel an emotion, you push it away. And a lot of the time, you push it away with something powerful, like anger, you know. And sometimes Bea has moments where she lashes out at people, even people she loves. And it's part of what she's dealing with. So for me, a lot of the conversations that Bea has with Miriam are really about accepting your emotion and trying to sort of pull the threads of the many feelings that we're usually having at once apart.
CHANG: Yeah. Like, I loved what her therapist Miriam said about how sometimes one feeling is behind another feeling. Like, anger can be a mask for fear.
STEAD: Exactly. Sometimes we react, right? And then a few minutes later, we have sort of a vague feeling that that reaction was covering up some other emotion.
STEAD: And we may or may not be willing to look at what that emotion is. In a way, it was almost comforting for me to write this story because it's recognizing stuff that is completely universal, I think, about how humans think and respond.
CHANG: Right, whether you're a child or an adult.
STEAD: Yes. It's really not just about childhood.
CHANG: And listening to what you're saying and there's so much that resonates with me during this moment now, I mean, there is so much we cannot control. And it's really hard for the title of your book not to hold some special meaning right now, "The List Of Things That Will Not Change." So how about you and I, right now, can we start a short list of things that will not change no matter what course this pandemic takes?
STEAD: Absolutely, yes.
CHANG: OK. I want to go first. My first item is I will always love my mom, dad and my brother. How about you?
STEAD: We can make it a game. I will always love my mom, my dad, my brother, my two sons and the circle of friends who are checking on me. Is that happening in your life right now, too?
CHANG: Oh, completely. You know, the ironic thing about social distancing is I feel like that's when everyone is reaching out. I feel, in a way, more connected...
CHANG: ..Than ever.
STEAD: I've now had exchanges with a college roommate, and I feel like we have a sharper appreciation of those moments right now.
CHANG: I agree.
STEAD: Yeah and a tenderness toward one another, which is something that I would really love to hold on to throughout and then on the other side of this.
CHANG: I totally agree. Rebecca Stead's new book is called "The List Of Things That Will Not Change."
Thank you so much for sharing this time with us.
STEAD: Oh, thank you. I really loved this conversation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.