By Marty Chan
Orca Book Publishers
Fiction ages 9 to 12
Who doesn’t love a good fictional tale about the supernatural? A narrative that pushes the boundaries of the imagination? In his new book by him, author-playwright Marty Chan leans on his rich cultural heritage as well as a passion for science fantasy and speculative fiction.
In will power, a high-low story aimed at 10- to 14-year-olds, protagonist Jennifer Mah has one heck of a big secret that makes life dangerous. Her special skill is telekinesis. She can move objects with her mind from her. If powerful individuals learn about her ability from her, she would be kidnapped and subjected to experiments.
For that reason, Jennifer and her father move from city to city living under false identities. But when the young girl uses her superpowers from her to save someone from a car accident, she exposes herself. As a result of the ill-fated situation, her father de ella is taken away by agents, and Jennifer must find a way to save him without being captured.
Along with help from Noah, a classmate who bullied her due to his own insecurities, Jennifer attempts to outwit the evil genius behind a mad scheme.
“One of the things my editor had was a lot of gritty, urban fiction, realistic fiction. She wanted something for reluctant readers,” said Chan.
As he describes it, “reluctant readers” are older children and teenagers who read below their grade level. Some may have dyslexia or other learning challenges. Others have short attention spans or read English as a second language.
High-low books written for reluctant readers aim for high, age-appropriate plots but with a lower vocabulary to dispel any embarrassment.
“It’s one thing that falls in my wheelhouse. I came from a world of theater, and I used a great deal of dialogue. I relied on dialogue so much, it was easy to transition. These books are easy to carry the story forward with dialogue as opposed to narration,” Chan explained.
Tanya Trafford, an editor at Orca, has worked on four books with Chan. The previous three were Haunted Hospital, King Fu Master, and Kylie the Magnificent.
“He just knows that age group, the mid-level readers — the 10-, 12-, 14-year-olds, and that says a lot about his inner child. He finds the right balance of funny and exciting,” said Trafford from Orca’s Vancouver office.
As a popular guest writer across Alberta schools, Chan has always credited young students for helping generate story ideas. Although the pandemic shut down in-person visits, the concept of virtual guest spots presented a new avenue for creativity.
“With virtual presentations you can’t get immediate reactions from kids. In the beginning it was hard making connections. But over the course of two years, it helped me figure out how to inspire kids, and in a weird way, the kids inspired me,” said Chan who has visited Nova Scotia, Ontario, Iqaluit, and Maskwacis, all from the comfort of his foundation.
“It doesn’t replace immediate feedback. But this kind of joy is the greatest feeling in the world. It’s not about being somewhere in person. It’s about connecting, conveying your sense of the world. It parallels taking a story and using what you have to make a high-low book.”
Although a formal book launch has not been set, will power is available in bookstores and online.