Last weekend I tried something new, something that pulled me out of my comfort zone. I was the moderator of an author panel — and it was awesome.
Five months ago, I was asked to take on the role. The panel discussion was to be part of Pasadena Mental Health Day, a community event to raise awareness of mental health. The authors and I would discuss their Young Adult fiction books, all of which have a theme of mental illness.
Even though I didn’t know exactly what a moderator was supposed to do, I immediately said yes. As a writer and mental health advocate, I was intrigued. I’m passionate about speaking out about mental illness, to help lessen the stigma and let people know they are not alone.
At times I second-guessed myself about taking on the position. Can I really do this? Absolutely.
Over the next few months, I read each of the books. I truly loved them all. The characters resonated with me and I was amazed by how realistic the stories were. They dealt with serious mental health topics, which were expertly handled by the writers. While the books’ target audience is teens, I’d consider them crossover, great for the adult reader as well.
I’m excited to share with you these talented authors and their books:
Brandy Colbert: Little and Lion. The main character, Suzette, is also known as Little. Her stepbrother, Lionel, or Lion, has bipolar disorder. This book demonstrates how mental illness affects the entire family. This quote is from Little: “Lionel said as much to me once, how so many of the same people who are quick to empathize with physical disabilities don’t understand why someone with depression can’t just get up and get on with their day like the rest of the world.”
Kerry Kletter: The First Time She Drowned. Cassie is mentally and emotionally abused by her mother. Suicide is also a topic in this book. This quote is from Cassie, after her mom hits her and she slaps her mother back: “Her eyes widened. They were wide with the shock of how big I had gotten. Like in all this time she had been feeding me her rage and despair, depositing it into me like coins into a slot, she had never stopped to consider what might happen to all that hate.”
Lauren Miller: All Things New. Jessa has severe anxiety and panic attacks. She hides it from everyone. After a horrific accident and brain injury, Jessa’s anxiety gets worse. Jessa’s dad told her, “I want you to be free. Free from the panic and worry, free from all that terrible self-doubt I see in your eyes and blame myself for. But you have to want it too, Jessa. You have to decide not to let fear win.” Click here to read my previous post on Lauren.
Marisa Reichardt: Underwater. Morgan witnessed a mass shooting at her high school. She develops PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. She can’t make herself step out of her family’s apartment. Morgan talks about an old friend, Taylor: “She deserves to live every single minute of her life. She deserves to pull it behind her like a kite. I envy that. Why can’t I be happy to be alive instead of afraid of living?”
The books were amazing to read, that was the easy part in my preparation. But I also had to think about the actual moderator duties. As a speaker for NAMI’s Ending the Silence, I wasn’t too worried about being in front of an audience. But this would be much different.
I delved into learning the responsibilities of a moderator. I searched online and watched YouTube videos of panels. I researched the authors and prepared questions, and hoped and prayed it’d go smoothly.
The authors were incredibly nice and supportive. They’re experienced writers and are very well-spoken. I was the new one, exposed to an unfamiliar world.
We tackled the serious topics of their books, discussed their different writing styles, and they offered words of encouragement to teens who may be struggling with a mental health condition.
Before I knew it, it was time to wrap up the discussion. I did it.
What I learned from this experience was to continue to follow my passion, even if it takes me out of my comfort zone. Keep reaching, keep growing, keep learning.
Because you never know where it might lead.
Fourth image courtesy of here