Tanya Lloyd Kyi is the author of the YA novel Anywhere But Here, the story of young man whose small town is a trap he's desperate to escape. But there is often more to small-town life than it seems, as Lloyd Kyi had to figure out for herself and as she portrays in her novel. As she explains here, however, her small-town parents didn't think her message was clear...
My parents were offended when they read the first draft of my novel. And my sister suggested I change the name of our town.
“It’s a little harsh,” she said, of my portrayal.
“Didn’t you read the last chapter?” I asked. “It’s redemptive.”
I admit it: I love small town jokes. You know you’re from a small town when you don’t use your turn signal, because everyone knows where you’re going. You know you’re from a small town when you schedule a party according to the police schedule, because you know which officers will bust you. You know you’re from a small town when you dial a wrong number and talk for 15 minutes anyway.
Those of you who grew up in the big city will think these are exaggerations. And you will be wrong.
I spent every teenage day plotting my escape from the truth of these jokes. I wanted out of my small town more badly than I wanted my backcombed hair to last through the next bush party. But here’s the thing … you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town out of the girl.
I get asked for directions more than anyone I know. It happens all the time. Because when you grow up in a tiny place, you make eye contact. In Vancouver, that’s apparently code for “I will help you find your way.” What people don’t realize, of course, is that I might give them small-town directions. Such as “turn at the big blue store, then go straight through the stoplight, and left at the Anderson place.”
I am geographically small town, forever.
I fell in love with Vancouver the first time I drove through Stanley Park onto Georgia Street and saw all those buildings stretching into the sky. But I haven’t left my small town behind. Not in the ways that count. I know my neighbors. I talk across my back fence and water the blueberry plants in the schoolyard. And I couldn’t believe it the first time I went to a potluck in Vancouver, and people brought food they’d bought from a store. To a potluck! I could never do that.
A few years ago, my parents respectfully requested that I stop referring to their town as “the sticks” in my blog posts. It was a hard habit to break. But here’s the thing: by that time, I was using “the sticks” as a term of endearment. Because there’s a little small town in most of us, and the world would be a better place if there were a little more.
That’s what my novel’s final chapter is about. And even though my main character’s a teenage boy, and even though he hasn’t yet explored the wider world, the lesson of small-town goodness is one he come to learn.
Though in the end, I did change the name of the place in my book. To make my parents happy.
It was the small-town thing to do.
Tanya Lloyd Kyi and her family live near Vancouver. Visit her at TanyaLloydKyi.com
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