I Promise to Tell the Truth by Chrystal D. Giles
The title of author is very often interchangeable with storyteller. It’s a title that seems to be automatically bestowed on authors and one that I find myself quietly afraid of. While one doesn’t have to be a professional storyteller to tell stories there is a certain something that we expect from people who arestorytellers—depth, humor, pitch-perfect voice, and a never-ending well of tales. And while after publishing a second novel, I suppose I could call myself a storyteller, but I’d much rather be called a truthteller instead.
For me, there’s a lot less pressure in telling the truth. It means I can be real and authentic and wrap a story around truthful experiences. That intersection of truth and story is where my characters are born. They are created from the fabric and beauty of genuine life.
When I visit with young readers of my books, I tell them if my characters don’t sound like them and if they can’t recognize their families in the pages of my novels, I’ve gotten it wrong. It is my sincerest desire to capture the full, round lives of Black children and their families and reflect those lives back to them on the page.
Whether it be a historical Black neighborhood experiencing the impacts of gentrification in Take Back the Block, or a boy who’s been expelled from a mostly white school in rural North Carolina in Not an Easy Win, I promise to tell the truth, as I know it and as I have experienced it. At a time when simple and complex truths are being challenged and threatened it is even more important to do this work—to wrap story around truth, be brave enough to sign my name to it, and stand with the young people who need it.
In my latest novel, Not an Easy Win, the twelve-year-old main character, Lawrence, stares truth right in its face when after a fight—that’s not his fault—he gets expelled. He then has the responsibility of telling his Ma and Granny how he’ll fill his days and how he plans to make things better. The problem is, he doesn’t know how. He also doesn’t know why trouble seems to find him all of sudden and why the stories and music of his Pop are replaying in his head lately.
And while I am not a twelve-year-old boy and the stories I write are not a direct reflection of my life, I know these kids—I’ve grown up with them, I’ve helped raise them, and I share many of their same characteristics. Like Wes, in Take Back the Block, my mother was very active in our local community. A single-parent and nurse, who worked with teenage mothers in her spare time, and a Sunday school teacher at our large church, she quite often took me with her to serve. I understand Wes’s desire to just be a regular kid with no grown-up responsibilities, but he and I answered our communities’ call, even if it was first with reluctance.
Like Lawrence, in Not an Easy Win, at times in my childhood I lived in a multigenerational home with an absent father who was often incarcerated. Lawrence and I share the dull ache and longing of normalcy—that yearning for the normal life everyone else must have.
“I wished we could all be a normal family again. Pop, Ma, me, and Nik—like the old days in Charlotte. I pushed that thought out of my mind. Nothing was normal. And who made up what normal was, anyway?” [Quote from Not an Easy Win]
So, I promise to tell the truth, because there are young readers who feel alone and afraid and embarrassed by the life they wish they could change. I write stories so that those readers can hear Wes raise his voice, even when it shakes, and watch Lawrence find his people, the joy of winning at a new hobby, and the freedom of telling his own story—a story wrapped in truth and hope and the promise of a future he has the power to create.
Chrystal D. Giles is a champion for diversity and representation in children’s literature. She made her debut with Take Back the Block, which received multiple starred reviews and was an NPR Books We Love selection. Chrystal lives outside Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son and is currently working on her next middle-grade novel.
Chrystal, I’m looking forward to reading this!