September 05


Fantasy in Foster Care: Facing Impossible Storms by Lindsay Lackey

My debut middle grade novel, All the Impossible Things, is about eleven-year-old Red, who has been in foster care for three years, and who accidentally causes tornadoes when she’s upset.


The heart of Red’s story is based firmly in reality. My youngest cousin was fostered and then adopted by my aunt and uncle nearly a decade ago, and their journey was deeply influential in the shaping of All the Impossible Things. However, I’m often asked why I chose to incorporate magical wind into an otherwise realistic story. Does fantasy belong in a tale about foster care? The magic of Red’s story is not arbitrary or accidental. In fact, to me, the magic is one of the most meaningful elements.


When I was a kid, my emotions were BIG. I remember feeling thrills of joy, gut-clenching terror, anger that swirled through me with alarming power. Once, my parents received a piece of junk mail assuring us we would win a million dollars if we bought a few magazine subscriptions. I was so convinced it was real that I begged my parents to participate, and when they said no, I sobbed in my bedroom. I didn’t pout or mope or cry—I sobbed with utter devastation.


At times, my emotions were overwhelming, and I often found I had no language to express what I was feeling. Anxiety, fear, joy, frustration—all of it sizzled beneath my skin, and sometimes I was ashamed of how much I felt and how deeply I felt it.


Luckily, my parents equipped me to manage my emotional health in a positive way. My emotions were big, but over time, my parents taught me how to navigate them. They helped me develop healthy emotional expression, gave me the language I needed to describe and understand my emotions, and demonstrated their own positive emotional health.


But not every child has this kind of support system.


The first scene I wrote in All the Impossible Things was the book’s opening, where Red is being kicked out of another foster home while, outside, a storm is brewing. Red is a child who has been let down by the adults in her life time and again, and because of this, she’s learned to hold her emotions in at all costs. Her feelings have become something shameful, something to fear.


I felt so connected to this little girl with big emotions. I remembered exactly what it was like to have enormous feelings without having the emotional maturity to know what to do with them. As I wrote the opening scene, Red’s anxiety and anger were mounting and the storm outside was growing more violent, almost as if it was connected to the girl herself—and suddenly, I knew that the windstorm wasn’t a coincidence. It was a magical manifestation of everything Red didn’t know how to express.


Throughout the book, the magic is a physical representation of Red’s emotional journey. We see her struggle to maintain control, and we see the moments when she loses the ability to keep her feelings, her wind, inside. We see the tornadoes of hurt and anger spinning under her skin and witness the gentle playfulness of the wind as her trust in her foster family grows.


The wind isn’t the only instance of magic in the story. Though it was important to me to portray the world of foster care and family realistically, it was also important that I keep these threads of magic as wondrous as possible. I believe that magic breaks down the barriers of our expectations and experiences within a story. It gives us an opportunity to release our disbelief and discover a character—and ultimately ourselves—anew.


By making Red’s emotions magical, I hoped to make them accessible to young readers. I wanted to break down the barriers between the reader and Red, and to show emotion in a way that might allow any reader to understand it. Not everyone will understand Red’s situation or feelings of rejection and betrayal, but perhaps readers will recognize some of their own big emotions spinning in Red’s tornadoes. Perhaps seeing a story in which feelings are allowed to be big, scary, and even destructive will let readers know they aren’t alone in their own enormous emotions, and that it is possible to gain true, healthy control over them.


All of us have been battered by life in some way. All of us must stand before our own “tornadoes.” But with support, we can learn to face our emotions without shame. With patience and practice, we can navigate our biggest feelings without being overwhelmed. And with the magic that is love, we can overcome even our most impossible storms.


Lindsay Lackey has trained as an opera singer, worked in children’s and teen services at a public library, and worked for a major publishing house in publicity and marketing. Born and raised in Colorado, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their spoiled dog. All the Impossible Things is her debut novel.