If Katie Kuperman has one message for teenagers in her new book, it’s this: Talk.
And if you don’t want to talk to your parents, find a friend.
Or anyone who can give you the time of day to express what’s going on in your life. And especially what’s going on in your head.
The Toronto author got the theme for her young adult novel in 2012 after reading a media report about Port Coquitlam student Amanda Todd.
She’ll never forget the day.
Kuperman was on an elliptical machine when news flashed about Todd’s suicide in connection with cyberbullying.
The black and white video images of the 15-year-old girl holding flashcards — clearly stating her mental health struggles, just a month before she took her life — shocked Kuperman to the core.
“I was just beside myself,” Kuperman remembered. “I was so moved by this story and how this young, beautiful girl was no longer in this world.”
“It didn’t make any sense,” she said.
Within a year, Kuperman had a first draft about two fictional girls in high school who are going through tough times; the tale was inspired by Todd’s experiences.
Geared for readers ages 13 to 18, the narrative for The Only Way Out follows Kaitlyn and Rebecca, the latter of whom falls into a dark world of a physical and cyber bully.
Kaitlyn is identified as a bystander — a stance she later regrets following a tragedy involving Rebecca, the repeat victim.
Still, Kuperman admits her manuscript sat on the shelf for years: A self-employed copywriter by day, she was nervous about sharing her fictional words with the public.
And, being a new mother to two children, she didn’t have any time to circle back to her draft.
REWRITE, REWRITE, REWRITE
In 2020, however, when the pandemic hit, Kuperman decided to dust off her material and give it another read.
Luckily, it was still strong enough for Round 2.
Through multiple revisions, Kuperman gave the plot and the characters a refresh, changed some scenes and made the script more current.
She also researched about the impacts of social media today, as well as mental health issues and medical conclusions about suicide and the dying process.
Before she pressed the Send button to self-publish the 186-page novel, Kuperman contacted Amanda Todd’s mother, Carol, School District 43’s coordinator of digital literacy and supportive technologies.
Since Amanda died, Carol Todd has honoured her late daughter’s legacy through non-profit educational work about cyberbullying and mental health awareness. Her outreach has gotten the attention of corporations and celebrities around the world.
“I reached out to her through social media,” Kuperman said. “I sent her a sample of the book. I was pleased to get her permission and so I’ve dedicated it to Amanda and my two children.”
Kuperman, 39, said her new partnership with the Amanda Todd Legacy Society gives her work “a sense of purpose and meaning.” She’ll be donating partial proceeds from the sale of the book to the PoCo-based organization.
Carol Todd told the Tri-City News the novel “is written with the realistic dynamics of how young people’s relations evolve in everyday life.”
“Amanda, like many teens, only wanted friendships that were trusting but struggled to find them.”
Todd added, “While reading this novel, I saw the parallels of Amanda’s story resonate. Sharing stories, whether real life or fictional ones, continues to help young people around the world in bringing about more awareness and learning about relationship building, positive behaviours and the importance of conversation around mental health.”
“Amanda’s Legacy continues to make impact about the importance of conversation around these topics in our digital and non-digital lives.”
As for her next book, Kuperman said she hopes to pen a non-fiction self-help book that keeps the conversation about mental health going.
“We have these horrible issues going on right now and they’re not getting better,” she said. “Often, people will share by telling stories. With my book, it’s my hope and dream to make them feel something, by understanding and having a positive impact in someone’s life.”
The Only Way Out is available from Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and the Book Depository. And, until the end of February, readers who sign up for the mailing list via theonlywayoutnovel.com will receive a free seven-minute audiogram.