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West Vancouver author writes vibrant novel about girl with ADHD

‘Queenie Jean is in Trouble Again’ brings equal parts humour and awareness about the misunderstood condition

When Chris Read first had the idea for her book 15 years ago, she was told that no one would read about a girl with ADHD.

Now, her vibrant teen novel Queenie Jean is in Trouble Again is adding equal parts humour and awareness about the misunderstood condition to bookshelves across Western Canada and further afield.

Published by Wandering Fox, an imprint of Heritage House, the story traces Queenie’s many downs and ups, as she navigates her new world as a Grade 5 student who has just moved to West Vancouver from a small town in Ontario.

Thrust into the halls of an unknown prep school, Queenie has to navigate unfortunate hair cuts from dad, play dates with spoiled classmates, a looming public speaking contest and her own behavioural challenges, which often get the well-intentioned youth into trouble.

A lot of those negative experiences leave Queenie feeling confused and down on herself, which can be felt at the beginning of the chapter titled “My Parents are Clueless.”

I just don’t understand why Mom gets so frustrated with me. But most of my teachers have been the same. Maybe it’s just a thing once you become a grown-up: you like to get mad and say no all the time.

Maybe if I draw pictures of my favourite stuff, like Coco and me, I might not feel so bad. At least, that’s what that lady said, the kids’ therapist my parents made me talk to back in Ontario. It probably won’t work, but whatever.

Read said Queenie’s character is largely based on her own daughter, who was diagnosed with ADHD around 20 years ago. At the time, the diagnosis was rare, especially for girls.

While the book is lightened by humour throughout, Queenie’s experiences trend to the unfortunate, which can leave the reader with a feeling of undue unfairness befalling the spunky young girl.

In reality, Read said her daughter’s experience was even more grim.

“I had to tone down some of the struggles and increase some of the helping moments with teachers, because at the time it didn’t feel like there was a lot of positivity,” she said. “There’s some stats that suggest kids with ADHD – because they don’t fit in and because their behaviour is not understood by a lot of the rest of us – they receive something in the neighborhood of five-to-10 times more negative attention than the average kid, especially girls.”

In the book, that’s expressed in Queenie’s pattern of getting in trouble, and getting in trouble again.

There are other aspects of ADHD that Read brings out in the novel.

In one scene, Queenie has her classmate – a new friend, she hopes – over to her house after school. They are going to use the pool, but then Queenie’s dog jumps up on her classmate and gives her face an unwelcome lick. The situation gets worse when Queenie’s mom yells at her for using the pool unsupervised, and her classmate leaves soon afterwards to meet another friend at Cedar Country Club.

In the situation’s wake, Queenie is left fixating on why everything went wrong.

According to recent research, ADHD isn’t so much a deficit of attention as it is a disorder of executive function, Read said.

“The executive function is really the overall planning and guiding ability to function in society. And that is very much delayed for kids with ADHD,” she said, adding that social levels in young people can be years behind other kids.

Surge in awareness and acceptance of ADHD

Although Read’s daughter was lucky to have some extra accommodation in school, there were still many misunderstandings about how best to support her. Many other kids with ADHD never got a diagnosis, or are now getting diagnosed as adults.

Compared to when she first pitched her book more than a decade ago, there’s a surge of awareness and acceptance of ADHD today, one that Read said she hopes to be a part of.

"There’s a young author in the States, Jessica McCabe, and she has a YouTube channel,” Read said. “She just released a book, part one of How to ADHD in January, and it became an instant New York Times bestseller.

“It’s really more about what it is and what are tools to deal with it. It’s an excellent book,” she said. “I’m hoping in my own small way, I can go on the coattails of that."

Whether you’re diagnosed or not, the added social and educational challenges can lead to kids with ADHD having low self-esteem.

“That was my daughter, she thought she was stupid for the longest time. And her classmates thought she was stupid,” Read said. “The irony is that kids with ADHD, they’re average or above-average intelligence, it’s just that the brain works differently. They often tend to be more creative and more artistic.”

Toward the end of the book, Queenie has a glowing moment of triumph, as she finds her focus and nails her public speech.

“That ability to hyperfocus can really help them out in ways," Read said. "It can be a rocky road … but I’m trying to bring out more of the bright side."

Book signing and meet the author

Where: Indigo - Park Royal

When: Saturday, June 1, 1 to 3 p.m.

[email protected]