Former Middle School Teacher Writes Novels From Students' Experiences ⁠— And Her Own

Sep 12, 2019

The young adult novel "Shouting at the Rain" deals with some dark issues, like addiction and being abandoned by a parent. 

But it's not a dark story, according to author Lynda Mullaly Hunt of Marlborough, Connecticut.

Growing up, the writer faced some of the same issues.

As a school teacher for 10 years, Hunt got to know kids like her characters, and wants to tell their stories. In "Shouting at the Rain," Hunt does that through a teenage boy named Ronan, who lives on Cape Cod with his father, and Delsie, a teenage girl being raised on the cape by her grandmother. 

Linda Mullaly Hunt, author: I've traveled around the country and met kids between third and eighth grade. And you ask them about [themselves], the kids who live with their grandparents, when they told me that, they would change the tone of their voice. They would drop their volume a little bit, and there was a little shame implied that being raised by your grandparents was somehow less-than.

So I set out to write a character being raised by loving grandparents ⁠— who take very good care of her ⁠— who comes to realize that if someone steps in to love you, you have not been abandoned.

Jill Kaufman, NEPR: You've written a book about this really hard situation for Delsie, but it's really a book about her summer, when people who don’t live on the cape show up, who are friends over the years. Those friendships begin to change and she meets Ronan, who's new to the cape.

Ronan is a little mysterious when he shows up on the cape. In the very first scenes that he appears, he's standing on a hot beach in July, with black jeans and a long-sleeved black T-shirt. It's rumored that maybe he has done some things he shouldn't have done. Those are rumors, so they're not necessarily true. But this is Delsie's first impression of him, and the other girls in the story.

Ronan probably is my favorite character of my three books. I absolutely love this kid. He breathes. He's wise. He’s intelligent. He’s fiercely loyal, but he's also very angry. He has not yet learned that anger is a mask for other emotions.

There are some significant things ⁠— at least in the life of a middle schooler ⁠— that happen in this story for Delsie. She makes friends with Ronan, and her relationship with her grandmother evolves over the summer. Can you describe their relationship?

I mean, it's just steeped in love. They absolutely adore each other, but Grammy struggles with emotion. Delsie's mom left when she was a week old. And when Delsie asks Grammy questions about her mother ⁠— 'Do we have the same voice? And did she like root beer as much as I do?' ⁠— Grammy doesn't want to talk about it. She says, you know, 'Why do we want to do that? It just makes me sad. I don't want to discuss it.' And she'll change the subject or turn to the game show network. She loves her game shows.

You have this keen understanding about all of this and you stress that to your readers in a letter at the end of the book. You wrote to them, "I struggled as a kid in middle school. I looked at my life and felt that perhaps I was unlucky, just like in the book. We shopped at tag sales, had a car that required prayer before starting, lived with walls that were coated in soot from the furnace, had friends who were loyal one day, but not the next. And I had parents who could not be available to me."

I'm trying to get across, I think, in all of my books that no matter what hand you've been dealt as a kid, it is within your power to make any life that you want to.

I will say that this book, of the three books, was really difficult for me to write. It took me a lot longer to write than the others. And the reason for that, I think, is Delsie and Ronan are actually both me at 13 years old, like a coin has two sides.

In some way I could be very naive and kind and just sort of plodded along, like Delsie. I liked to run around in bare feet and that kind of thing. But I also had times where I was really confused and was very angry.

There is a scene in the book where Delsie asks Ronan, 'Do you think we're broken?' and Ronan says, 'Nah, like a person can't break, the body's too soft.' And she says, 'No no, that's not what I mean. I mean, like break inside. Do you think a person can break inside?' And he says, 'Do you mean like appendicitis?'

And finally she just asks, 'Do you think we're broken because of the things that have happened?' And the conversation goes on and they meander a little bit, and Ronan finally gets angry, and he says, 'How can we be broken because of the things that others have done?'

And that’s really important to me, that kids realize that you are not broken because of the things that other people have done.

Keep up with NEPR’s back-to-school book series.