Teen fiction writer Aimee Said took inspiration from her own upbringing with her newly released second novel, Little Sister.
The book focuses on Al, a high school student sick of living in the shadow of her popular Year 12 sister Larrie, until rumours about Larrie’s sexuality spread through the school like wildfire and Al’s forced to stand up for her big sister.
“The first advice in writing is always write what you know,” the 38-year-old author said.
“It started from thinking about how unfairly I felt I was treated in the year my sister did her HSC, and how ignored I felt. It does also happen that my sister’s gay, but our story is nothing like Al and Larrie’s.
“I used it as a jumping-off point — what if our story had been different? And what if Facebook, mobile phones and cyber-bullying were around when we were at school?”
Indeed, the book (which Said dedicates to her sister Gaby) is filled with the digital communication methods of today’s teens. Chapters are punctuated with status updates, and much of the school rumour mill takes place online.
“When I was at school, people were bitches and there was bullying, but it stopped when you went home. You didn’t have to worry about things being posted on sites, forwarded and spread through social networks. It adds so much stress to being a young person,” Said said.
In researching the book, Said drew from the three Writing Themselves In studies on same-sex attracted young people conducted by La Trobe University. Did her research find that life is getting easier for gay teens?
“The evidence says no. Reporting of homophobic bullying in schools went from 76 percent to 80 percent between 2006 and 2010, although that may be a positive indication that people are recognising it more and reporting it more. But I don’t think the bullying itself is changing.”
Said will launch the book at free events in Sydney and Melbourne in coming weeks, and said she was looking forward to hearing how readers respond to its message.
“I didn’t intend Little Sister to be an ‘issues’ book. My writing style is quite lighthearted, ‘junior chick-lit’, with teen romance. But at its heart, the message of the book is that you should stand up for what you believe in — that if you stay silent, you’re complicit.”
info: Little Sister is out now through Walker Books, and will be launched at Surry Hills Library from 6pm on May 6. RSVP essential on 02 8374 6230.
Photo by Marlo Rae