Format: ARC (thank you, Penguin!)
Virtual twins Linc and Holly were once extremely close. But while artistic, creative Linc is her parents’ daughter biologically, it’s smart, popular Holly, adopted from Ghana as a baby, who exemplifies the family’s high-achieving model of academic success.
Linc is desperate to pursue photography, to find a place of belonging, and for her family to accept her for who she is, despite her surgeon mother’s constant disapproval and her growing distance from Holly. So when she comes up with a plan to use her photography interests and skills to do better in school–via a project based on Seneca Village, a long-gone village in the space that now holds Central Park, where all inhabitants, regardless of race, lived together harmoniously–Linc is excited and determined to prove that her differences are assets, that she has what it takes to make her mother proud. But when a long-buried family secret comes to light, Linc must decide whether her mother’s love is worth obtaining.
I’m so excited to have Cordelia on the blog writing a guest post! I really enjoyed reading her post – check it out below!
Throughout my teen years I struggled with low self-esteem and to find my
self-worth. My father, despite being a great parent in many ways, also had a strong
critical voice, which I then internalized. In fact, to this day, when I make a mistake I
hear him saying my name in a disappointed tone.
I attended a high-achieving New York City school with a narrow idea of what
success meant – academics were everything. I saw a lot of creative, visionary kids
get crushed in this competitive environment. In a place where being the “best” was
seen as essential, I decided to extricate myself from the competition. I learned that I
could avoid conflict with others by deflating my own power. I used this strategy
both academically and socially and took up the only role in which I felt safe, in which
I, too, could be a high-achiever: being a “good friend.” If a friendship felt threatened
in any way, the problem was mine alone to fix. If a friend was jealous of me, I put
myself down. My job was to “help” others, no matter the cost to my own self-worth.
As a teen, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to help someone
enough to make them feel better. This also translated to how I operated in romantic
relationships as I got older, often choosing partners who I was convinced needed my
Placing your self-worth in the hands of others is tricky, and as a result, I had a
hard time saying “no.” In my early twenties, I became isolated in an abusive
relationship; I didn’t know how to tell my friends and family the truth about what
was happening for fear of judgment.
I hadn’t learned how to put myself first. I wish I could tell you that the
relationship ended shortly after it began. I wish I could tell you that the reason this
relationship ended was my choice. Unfortunately, that was not the case. It was only
years later, after he’d ended things and I found myself alone in the apartment we
shared, that I knew I had reached some sort of bottom. And, it was then, that an
In that moment, I realized I had stayed with him out of fear. But I’d also
stayed with him because I did not respect myself. I didn’t think I deserved anything
more than helping others move past their own pain. And I never knew how to admit
that I needed help too.
Like an addict, the first step was admitting I had a problem. Although I suffer
from low self-esteem, my pride was wrapped up in the idea that people needed me
to feel better. Maybe if I became an actual counselor, I would not be inclined to be a
counselor in my relationships? So I moved towns to a community where I felt safe
and loved, and enrolled in counseling school. Through this, I learned how to set
emotional boundaries. How to not take on someone else’s mood and do everything I
could to “fix” it.
Throughout my twenties I worked as a counselor and coached many teens
through their self-esteem issues while also working on my own. I learned the
importance of speaking nicely to yourself, especially when you are down. Of telling
yourself to slow down, that you deserve what you desire, and treating yourself. I
learned the value in replacing your critical voice, with words of encouragement.
Phrases like: “you are doing a great job.” “You can’t control another person’s mood.”
“You are not just here to please other people.”
But perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that you can channel
your negative thoughts into a new project, be it travel, community service, or
something more. You can channel your thoughts into art, even if you don’t consider
yourself an “artist.” Sometimes just the act of creating something in the moment you
feel most discouraged can help turn the stirring sadness or internal disappointment
into something that exists outside your body. So as hard as it is, write a poem. Draw
a sketch. Sing a song. Anything. Whether you think the art is “good” or not doesn’t
matter. The goal is to give yourself a sense of freedom in the moment.
Now, this doesn’t mean the critical voice inside is gone for good. It will
probably still be there. But I’ve learned that by treating yourself better and
channeling your negative thoughts into a positive means of self-expression, you can
quiet the voice a bit, pay less attention to it. You can focus on other things. And when
the voice does chime in, it’s easier to remember that it is just one part of you. So, tell
this part “thank you for the information, I am going to continue writing my poem.”
And then, do it.
It’s a long, ongoing process. The important thing is just to keep going.
This is something I’ve focused on in my new young adult novel THE WAY
THE LIGHT BENDS (forthcoming March 2018)—the story of sixteen-year-old Linc
and her struggles to fit in with her high-achieving family. Linc’s mother, for reasons
made clear by the end of the story, treats Linc and her sister Holly very differently.
While Holly’s academic and athletic achievements are lauded, Linc’s artistic gift is
dismissed, causing Linc to feel stupid and worthless.
Like me, Linc suffers from low self-esteem, but, whereas I focused on helping
others rather than helping myself, Linc focuses on her creative pursuits to escape
from the pressures around her.
I wrote THE WAY THE LIGHT BENDS for anyone who has ever felt
overshadowed and held back by feelings of insecurity. For anyone who has fought
and moved beyond these feelings and finally found a way out. This is something I
wish I had managed much sooner than I did. But perhaps, if I had, I wouldn’t be able
to empathize with characters who struggle to believe in themselves. With characters
who want to change.
Maybe I wouldn’t be an author.
Linc and I are not the same person. Our lives have many differences. Linc’s
mother tells her that who she is isn’t good enough, and most of the time, Linc
believes her mom is right. But Linc is so much braver than I was at her age. She goes
after what she wants despite everything. She moves past her self-doubt and takes
active steps to make her dream come to fruition. She makes mistakes on how to get
to this new place, as so many of us do. She lies and hides. She’s impulsive. But, along
the way, she also finds something vital: her self-worth. Linc’s future is bright.
She bends the light.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cordelia Jensen holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband and children. She is also the author of Skyscraping. Follow her on Twitter @cordeliajensen.
Alice is an 18 year old college student who loves the oxford comma, television shows, and the company of dogs. She finds writing in the third person odd yet enjoyable. You can find her scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, and forever organizing her shelves on Goodreads.