It is a complete delight to host local author, Sara Nickerson, today to celebrate her newest novel, Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club (Dutton Children’s Books). Her character driven stories are brimming with heart and wonderful writing; if you don’t know her work, you’ll want to get reading right away! And Sara is making that super easy for you: she has offered to give away a copy of her book! Click on this link and follow the instructions to enter.
On the first day of fourth grade, I stopped speaking. I spoke at home but not at school. We had just moved from the small town of Rochester, Washington to the bigger city of Olympia. I’d always been shy around strangers, but this was different. Even when my nice teacher, Mrs. Crawford, called on me in class, I kept my mouth shut. Soon, kids stopped noticing me.
I wasn’t consciously thinking of my silent fourth grade self when I started writing Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club (Dutton Children’s Books). But I was thinking about all the different times in my life I’ve felt invisible. One of the main characters in the book, Josh Duncan, moves to a new school in 5th grade and discovers he’s basically that—invisible. Also, he has a secret: he sees people that no one else does. A boy in his class, Lucas Hernandez, also has a secret, one that will bring the two kids together in a life-changing way.
You know those pictures where you see one thing immediately and miss the other thing completely? Where you’re so intent of looking at a vase in the center of the picture that you don’t see the two faces on either side? I found many different versions while researching sight and perception for this book. I also discovered the term Inattentional Blindness: that when we are focused on something else, or expecting to see something a certain way, we can miss what’s right in front of us. The well-known Gorilla experiment is the perfect example, and it clicked into this story like a puzzle piece I’d been missing.
In fact, the whole novel came together like a puzzle, with the ghost story element as the framing pieces. I’ve always loved a ghost story, especially those with psychological and emotional elements, and I wanted to explore the real haunting that comes from family histories and secrets. At a crucial point in the story, Josh has the realization that maybe ghost stories are not about the ghosts, but about the people who see them.
I’ve had some wonderful school visits since the book launch. At the end of my presentation I talk about my fourth-grade self, and how hard it can be to move to a new school. How it’s up to everyone to look out for one another—to really see one another. I share the good news that I eventually did start talking—right after Mrs. Crawford put me in a play with a small group of kids. At the end of one visit, a 5th grade girl raised her hand. “This is not a question but a comment,” she said. She spoke so quietly that I had to move close to hear. “I’m new, too.”
Most authors have big hopes for their books. My biggest is this: that Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club will reach those kids who feel invisible. The ones who don’t know how incredible they are. And I hope that, like Josh and Lucas, they see the value in their unique ways of being in the world, and know they’re not alone.
Sara Nickerson began her writing career working in television and film. Her first middle grade novel, How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, started out as a screenplay. She is the author of two other middle grade novels: The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me and Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club, both published by Dutton Children’s Books. She lives in Seattle and is currently working on a novel that has only four words in the title. To learn more about Sara please visit her website.