One of the things that struck me most about PARCHED is the love, loyalty, compassion, and friendship that the main characters demonstrate despite the great traumas they go through and the turmoil all around them. I’ve asked Dr. Cheryl Bildner, a licensed clinical psychologist, to join us today to address how realistic some of those reactions would be in the real world. Dr. Bildner provides testing, evaluation, and counseling services for children and adults, so she has experience working with young people in distress.
LAT: Welcome to Emu’s Debuts, Cheryl! Thanks for visiting and sharing your professional expertise with us. What happens to children when their region, community, and/or family suffers a major upset—such as happens to Sarel and Musa in PARCHED? How well does the fiction in this case match with reality?
CB: Most children thrive on structure. With structure, children know what to expect, which enables stability, expectation and presence of mind. Children do not have to worry about what will happen next and will understand that a given event will result in a given consequence.
Children seek certainty and often unknowingly prefer rules and order. When crises erupt, rules and structure often break down, leaving individuals vulnerable. Typical rules of conduct, social norms, and typical cause-and-effect relationships no longer apply. Individuals are left with this sense of uncertainty; anxiety ensues.
Without expectations, individuals can no longer predict with any certainty what their experience will be like. There is no prior history to draw from to know how to behave and no anticipated consequences. The script is new.
LAT: This matches well with what we see in PARCHED. I don’t want to give away any plot points or spoilers, but the scenes where Sarel tries to deal with a major blow certainly have this feel to me. Sarel basically shuts down for a little while, because she just doesn’t know what to do next. What happens to children psychologically in a situation like this?
CB: Stress. Stress can initially be beneficial to a person causing the individual to respond in unprecedented ways. Stress can elicit a rush of adrenalin enabling individuals to engage in superhuman acts. Stress can drive us forward and enable us to achieve goals previously unachievable and adapt to circumstances that have never before been encountered. Stress can trigger individuals to cope in new ways. Stress can challenge the individual to levels that they have not previously reached. Stress can lead to strength, determination, creativity and development.
LAT: Yes, I think we see this in both Musa and Sarel, as they find the strength and resolve to go on after their initial upsets. I usually think of stress as a bad thing, though.
CB: Although initially a positive force, over time, stress can wear at the psyche as well as the body and result in negative emotional and physiological changes. Stress can be manifested in an unsettled mind, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory issues, immune deficiencies, cardiac issues, pain, and skin issues. Stress can also result in clinical conditions including anxiety and depression. Long-term exposure to stress may lead to poor behavioral choices, negative effects on social relationships, changes in sleep, and changes in mood.
In a time of long-term uncertainty, individuals can establish new patterns and relationships that are not typical of their day-to-day experience. Neighbors, acquaintances and strangers can develop relationships built on their common trauma. Relationships may push into unprecedented realms. Former adversaries may come together and unite to accomplish a superordinate goal, e.g., survival. People can establish new bonds with animals that help them reduce stress and create a fleeting or temporary “normal.” Working relationships may form that may not have been previously imagined or predicted.
Crises may push individuals to their physical and emotional limits. However, once resolved, these crises may elicit growth on many levels and propel one’s human experience.
LAT: Oh, yes! I think we see this in the strong bonds between Sarel and her dogs, as well as the way the relationship with Musa and Sarel unfolds and deepens throughout the story. And even though their situation is far from stable in the end of the book, they have both experienced a great deal of growth. I think that is what makes it such a satisfying story, and one of the reasons that it resonated with me so deeply.
Cheryl, it was a pleasure talking with you, and fascinating to hear the “real story” behind a story like this one. Thank you so much for stopping by today to discuss the truth that lies behind the fictional world of PARCHED!
Remember, you could win a free copy of PARCHED at the end of the week just by leaving a comment below! And, if you missed the excerpt on Monday, go back and read the first three chapters here.
Where to buy PARCHED: