Welcome to We Hear YA!
Connecting YA Writers with their Teen Audience.
Today... We Hear YA continues the conversation on diverse books.
The need for diverse books abounds, and the definition extends beyond race or sexual orientation. It includes people whose lives are radically different than most. That’s why I leapt at the chance to interview the directors of a documentary called THE BAD KIDS: Keith Fulton & Lou Pepe.
THE BAD KIDS is a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s about a high school in the Mojave Desert for kids who are on the verge of dropping out of mainstream high school, and in this school they are taught by teachers who see them for who they are and don’t ignore their life circumstances. The school really helps them make the right choices for moving on with their lives.
This story grips the heart! I hope we YA writers can use some of the truth found in Keith Fulton & Lou Pepe’s documentary, within our diverse stories, so that more so called “bad kids” can see that they are neither “bad” nor alone in this world.
Q & A with Directors Keith Fulton & Lou Pepe.
Q: What is the most important aspect for YA writers to know about the kids in your film?
Discovering their voices of these kids. Most people want to sweep these kids under the carpet because society thinks they’re representative of what we are failing at. But when you talk to these kids, they are amazing. They are not proud of where they have come from because they have come from horrible circumstances, homelessness and abandonment. Hideous drug problems. But it is important for them to get a chance to talk about their stories. Once they do have a chance to talk about their lives, they are more comfortable with what they have gone through. They are not ignored.
Q: What do these kids want / need?
One of the important things that a lot of these students share is that they feel as if they are alone, that they are the only ones going through this. And when kids have a chance to come together at this school, and see that they are not alone, it actually shows them a path forward. It allows them to realize that the problem is not with them but the circumstances that they have gone through. It gives them a source of pride to be able to move forward as adults.
Q: What surprised you the most about these kids?
These kids have empathy and grit. They are not coddled or protected from what is uncomfortable. These kids know adversity really well, and I think what it results in is an incredible amount of empathy. We saw these kids taking care of each other and going to each other to get through their problems.
I would trust these kids with anything.
The film is called THE BAD KIDS because that is how they are labeled by their community. And the theme in this movie has to do with empathy. If you listen to their stories, and get to know who they are, they are not any different than us. In fact, they are probably more open and vulnerable and fragile than the typical person you meet. But you only get to see that if you can open your heart and see life through their eyes.
Q: What is the biggest way that these kids break stereotypes?
These kids are really wise. They are life smart in ways that most aren’t at 18 years old. And because they have been through such hard life circumstances, they do have more empathy. They know what it is like to suffer and feel rejected or neglected, and they hate to see other people in these circumstances. So, they actually reach out and try to take care of others. I don’t think that many people who have had comfortable lives have this level of empathy.