by Laura Golden
“Sometimes it's just not easy to like Lizzie Hawkins. Sometimes you can't help but admire her determination.”
The above quote is the entirety of Karen Arendt’s four-star review of Every Day After on Goodreads. It is one of my favorites. Quite to the point, don’t you think? Aside from that, I love it because it’s true.
This is my Nana, Nelda Posey Perry, at about ten or eleven years old.
Nana served as inspiration for the character of Lizzie Hawkins. Like Lizzie, Nana was flawed. She laughed too loudly in public places and whispered too loudly during church service. (I wouldn’t sit next to her lest the pastor give us “the look”.) She was outspoken. (She dared to call the pastor who married my husband and me a not-so-nice word.) And she had a temper. (My sister and I got into trouble more than once for sitting on her pristine bedspread.)
This is my Jake, Curtis Aldridge Perry, at about nineteen years old.
Jake served as inspiration for the character of Ben Butler, Lizzie’s best friend. Jake, too, was flawed. Unlike Nana, he was often too quiet. He rarely spoke what was on his mind. He was trusting to a fault, and he was a bit of a procrastinator.
But despite their shortcomings, all who knew Nana and Jake sincerely loved them. They were genuine. They were caring. They were smart. They were strong—both in body and in spirit. They are gone now, and they are deeply missed—flaws and all. A day doesn’t pass without me wishing I could hear Nana speak her mind or witness Jake keeping the peace just once more.
When I decided to write Every Day After, I wanted to develop characters that not only reflected my grandparents’ strengths, but also their weaknesses. I wanted to tell a story of kids overcoming unimaginable hardships during the Great Depression—just as Nana and Jake had done. I wanted to tell a story of kids overcoming those hardships in spite of their flaws, and in the end, overcoming their flaws in spite of their hardships. The final result is a main character that can grate on your nerves, but I didn’t want to make Lizzie perfect and likable from the outset. I wanted her to struggle to overcome her shortcomings and experience emotional growth just as we all (hopefully) do.
Real-life stories are those of day-to-day struggles to overcome weaknesses—weaknesses that we display even as adults. How could I expect eleven- or twelve-year-olds, real or fictional, to consistently choose the high road and make it through tough trials mistake-free? I couldn’t. That simply isn’t reality. So, yes, most of the characters in Every Day After mess up, say the wrong thing, or act out of line. But so did my grandparents. And so do I. Far more often than I would care to admit.
Nobody is perfect. The beauty in our imperfections is our calling to recognize them and change. If we only loved flawless folks, we’d never love anybody—not even ourselves.
Without flaws there could be no growth or change. There could be no redemption or unconditional love. Imperfections add depth and meaning to our everyday lives. They do the same in fictional lives as well. Give flawed characters a chance. Forgive them their flaws just as you must forgive others on a daily basis. There is immeasurable beauty in flaws and the transformation they ignite.
Laura, thank you for creating characters who mess up and still pick themselves back up again. That allows us to love them all the more! I can't wait to read your next novel -- so hurry up and finish it.
Readers: You can learn more about Laura at her blog, or follow her on Twitter: @laurapgolden