An Allen County deputy prosecutor has published her first novel for young adults that, while entirely fiction, includes some references to issues she has dealt with in her work handling child abuse cases.
Laurie Gray said she has enjoyed writing since she was young. In fact, five of the poems she wrote in high school that were published in her high school literary magazine are included in the book as works written by her main female character.
But it was in recent years, since having her daughter who's now in second grade, that she has been reading and writing more. In that time, she's been spending more time at a public branch library near her house. While there, she said she would observe other people including children who were home schooled and people she recognized from her work as a guardian ad litem.
So it's no surprise when she started writing the book in 2005 she created characters for "Summer Sanctuary" who spend most of their time in a library: Matthew, a 12-year-old preacher's son who is home schooled; and Dinah, a young teenager who practically lives at the library and is hiding out from her mother's abusive boyfriend and the child welfare system until her mother is released from prison.
Throughout the story, Matthew explains to Dinah what his home life is like. He's has three younger brothers, Mark, Luke, and John, and his mother is pregnant with his fourth sibling Matthew's friend jokingly calls "Acts" because it's the next book of the Bible after John.
And because he's home schooled, he doesn't have a grade but works at different grade levels in different subjects and works on independent projects.
As a home-schooled kid, he's also very sheltered. On the other hand, the first time he sees Dinah, she is taking a sandwich out of the trash that he has just thrown away. He thinks she's a boy at first because of her baggy clothes and short hair, which she later explains was her defense mechanism from having older men stare at her.
Like Matthew, Gray said seeing other home-schooled kids at the library she would visit helped her realize that it is sometimes their only connection to the outside world.
And Dinah's experiences were also based in reality, including her mother's boyfriend who asks her to sleep in his bed, even though nothing happens and Dinah runs away as a result.
"I've watched the system long enough, including cases where parents' rights were terminated to know what that's really like," Gray said. "The system is there to help children like Dinah, but she doesn't want it. Her mom grew up in it and she saw it as a two-edged sword."
Because Matthew feels sorry for Dinah, he uses his resources to help her. He has access to a church within walking distance because his father is a preacher there. Because Matthew also knows the schedule of when people are or are not in the church, he knows how to sneak Dinah in and out.
He also uses resources in other ways.
He gets a library card in his name and checks out a book for her. He packs bigger lunches for himself so he has more to share with her. And she helps him in other ways, such as helping him set up an e-mail address so they can stay in touch, and sharing her poetry with him.
Gray said one of the things she wanted to have for the characters, other than their differences, was a common bond of music. Matthew plays piano, mostly hymns at the church, and Dinah plays a harmonica she carries around with her at all times. If Matthew plays songs in the same key as the harmonica, she can play along with him. Matthew also checks out a library book on his card about harmonicas for her to study.
As research for the book, Gray said she bought a harmonica and planned to play it for book readings with children.
While it is never openly revealed that Matthew's parents knew he was helping Dinah live in the church – they never even officially meet her even though she meets his younger brothers – Gray said she wanted to imply that they knew through various conversations they have with him about the idea of sanctuary and how important it is to help people who are less fortunate.
"The book is about how he is used to having the security of his parents, but he's also figuring out on his own what he needs to do," she said.
Because the book is for kids, she said, she wanted readers to think about whether or not he got away with it. And if he did, would he ever tell his parents, considering Dinah told him not to tell anyone, no matter what.
She said that she has shared the book with other authors, as well as home-schooled children. She said their biggest complaint was that Matthew did things his parents told him not to – including signing up for an e-mail address and lying about his age to do so, and getting a library card behind his parents back.
A few parents who read the book also didn't like that even in the beginning Matthew thinks to himself, "At that moment I was convinced the summer was going to suck. Only I'm not allowed to say 'suck.'"
Gray said finding a publisher wasn't easy. Like most authors she received many rejection letters before Carmel-based Luminis Publishing decided to publish and promote her book, now available on major online book retailers.
"We chose to publish Laurie's book because it has 'depth' to it," wrote her publisher Chris Katsaropoulos via e-mail. "That is, it goes beyond what most normal young adult fiction covers, touching on issues of spirituality, teen identity, and acceptance of others who are different than oneself."
He also described her work as quirky, funny, and interesting.
"We did not consider Laurie's background as a lawyer when deciding to publish this book," he added, "though her experience prosecuting child sexual abuse cases lends authority to her handling of the situation of the homeless girl in the book."
Gray said she plans to promote the book through church, school, and educator events. She recently participated at a book fair and has other events scheduled in coming months. She also is leaving the prosecutors office April 30, but said she was unsure what she would do next beyond promoting her book and speaking for conferences.
More information about Gray and her new book are available on her website, http://www.socraticparenting.com/. Excerpts are available on her publisher's website, http://www.luminisbooks.com.