Every teen feels awkward and self-conscious sometimes, but 17-year old Abby Hughes, the resilient young protagonist in Leanne Baugh's The Story of My Face (Second Story Press), has a serious reason for feeling like everyone is staring: a brutal grizzly attack left her with facial scars - and now she worries that's all anyone can see. When she returns to finish her final high school term, things go from bad to worse, as her friends pull away. When Abby turns to drama class to find a new path to accepting her face - and herself - it may be the best decision she's made, or the worst.
We're pleased to welcome Leanne to Open Book today to tell us all about Abby, a fascinating character who is deeply relatable despite the unusual burden she carries. Leanne tells us about Abby's "long and winding road", her own favourite characters (including two from beloved modern CanLit hits), and the characters with whom she's going on her next journey.
Tell us about the main character in your new book.
Prior to when the story begins, Abby Hughes was outdoorsy, fit, popular, pretty—and on reflection—a bit shallow, and sometimes mean-spirited. Her life turns upside down after she is mauled by a grizzly bear while backpacking in the Rockies. Now, seventeen-years old with a severe facial disfigurement, Abby is understandably fearful and very self-conscious. But as she stumbles over the hurdles and obstacles of her new reality, she becomes determined to rebuild her life from the ground up. It’s a long and winding road for Abby, but she begins the journey of self-acceptance.
If you had to describe your main character in three words, what would those words be?
Fearful. Courageous. Evolving. (In that order.)
Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?
I totally agree. I set the stage for the story, get to know my main characters and then basically just follow them around. They always seem to know where to take the story better than I do.
Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?
As a teenager, I was very self-conscious about my body. But unlike Abby, my body image issues were mainly in my head and reinforced by peer pressure and society’s notions of beauty. Abby’s disfigurement and scars are highly visible—front and centre. She has to deal with everything head on. Like Abby, I was very self-conscious as a teenager, but unlike Abby, who is brave and determined to barrel forward in her new life, it took me decades to come to a place of self-acceptance.
Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?
Spirited and plucky Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables is probably the most memorable female character from my childhood. Jean Valjean is the most memorable male character in my all-time favourite novel, Les Misérables. Other characters include: Naomi Nickel in A Complicated Kindness; Eli Sisters in Sisters Brothers; and, of course, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a new Young Adult novel set in San Francisco. I have two very weird and wonderful characters, Billie (girl) and Finn (boy), who are taking me on quite the journey. At this point I have no idea where we’ll all end up.
Leanne Baugh has been a waitress, receptionist, teacher, stay-at-home mom, and a screenwriter. Leanne is passionate about books, films, beach walks, and hummingbirds. When she isn't at home in Victoria, B.C., she's off traveling the world.