Lorena Koppel is fighting for more heroines in middle-grade fiction.
By Lorena Koppel, Photo by Nelissa Torres
“You could’ve written a whole book by now,” a friend told me in elementary school, after seeing the stack of short stories I’d written at 9 years old. “You’re right,” I replied, and got to work. At the time, I genuinely didn’t think writing a novel would be much of a stretch. In retrospect, it was an enormous undertaking, but in the best possible way.
I wrote the majority of my book, The Shadow in Her Pocket, at a time when I had difficulty finding books that resonated with me. I often had the feeling that middle-grade writers were talking down to their audiences, either in linear, formulaic plots, simplified language or in the way authors portrayed young characters. “We don’t talk like this,” I remember thinking. “And we aren’t clueless.”
In the majority of books I read, regardless of their audience, prominent female characters were few and far between. As much as I loved reading, I would always commiserate with my peers about how the female characters were outnumbered in almost every adventure story. I’d never really read a fantasy book where there were more female characters than male, and it made me wonder why that was the case.
As a kid, in my mind, the most logical course of action was to write my own middle-grade novel and prove that kids could both read and write complex stories. I decided early on that my book would switch between the perspectives of three girls, and my imagined government would be run by women. Kids are creative thinkers: They see a problem and want to fix it; they have an idea and start without hesitation. I started writing my book to change a trend in literature, and I kept going because I loved it. Besides, I was motivated to prove, both to myself and to everyone else, that I could finish.
For the first several years I was writing, whenever I mentioned my endeavor to adults, they would belittle or underestimate the work I was doing before they had so much as seen a sample of my writing. Even in eighth grade, when I had already written two full drafts of my novel, my school’s newspaper interviewed me about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I talked about my book. When the article was published, they quoted me as saying “45-page manuscript” instead of “450-page manuscript.”
In all honesty, being underestimated only made me more determined to finish. But I am lucky; I have my base of family and mentors who always support me, and I will forever be grateful to them for believing in me. I persevered, never stopped writing and never gave up on my vision. Now I’ve completed my debut fantasy novel, The Shadow in Her Pocket, and pitched it to agents in New York City. Sign up to preorder my book at LorenaKoppel.com. Never let age or gender limit your potential—you can accomplish anything.