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Catholic author’s talents bloom in new teen book

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — From the time she was old enough to read, Amy Brecount White says she found a home in books. Now the Catholic author is basking in the joy of seeing her first novel, Forget-Her-Nots (Greenwillow Books, 2010), touch the hearts of young readers.
 
Her father’s work as a physician in the U.S. Public Health Service took her family to many cities, including Dayton, White said, and the nearest library was one of the first places she found when they arrived in a new locale. White attended St. Rita School in Dayton and attended high school religious education classes at Holy Angels Parish, where she and her husband were later married. Although White now resides in Arlington, Va., her ties to the archdiocese remain strong, with family members still living in Cincinnati and Dayton.


 

Amy Brecount White
Amy Brecount White (Courtesy photo)

White, who holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Notre Dame and University of Virginia respectively, said she “always wanted to be a writer, but it was a very scary thing to set out to do.”

Her first paid writing job was for a health newsletter, and then came various freelance articles, mainly for The Washington Post. She also penned many essays on subjects that are important to her, such as her faith, reading aloud to her children and protecting the environment. In addition, White taught English at St. Gertrude High School, an all-girls college preparatory school in Richmond.
 
The concept for Forget-Her-Nots, which focuses on a 14-year-old main character named Laurel, originated in several places, White said. She was particularly inspired by words of wisdom from author Toni Morrison, who advised, “Write the book that only you can write.”

“That resonated with me and made me think about my audience and the things I really cared about and wanted to share,” explained White. “My audience became teenage girls because of my teaching experience. I care about that age group and have found a lot of books don’t give them a very realistic view of our world. I wanted to write something that’s different and more original than what’s being written for teens these days.”
 
White was also compelled to incorporate her love of gardening into her novel, especially after finding a book about the language of flowers at a Dayton bookstore. That language, noted White, dates back to Greek mythology, and many flowers also have meanings that have been handed down through western culture. White bellflowers, for example, represent gratitude; dogwood symbolizes love that overcomes adversity; and geraniums stand for true friendship.
 
To show support for a friend battling ovarian cancer, White sent her a tussie-mussie (historically a Victorian bridal bouquet that has evolved into a compact cluster of flowers appropriate for any occasion), comprised of flowers and herbs from her own garden that represented strength and courage, faith and good spirits.

“She loved it,” White said, “and I remember thinking ‘what if those flowers messages came true?’ The more you think about it, we have flowers at every special occasion in our lives. I don’t think flowers have huge magic, but they do make us feel special. Something wonderful and special happens when you bring them into a room.”
 
The language of flowers became the inspiration for Forget-Her-Nots as the teenage Laurel becomes a new student at her recently deceased mother’s alma mater, a boarding school for girls in Virginia. While conducting research for a class project, Laurel learns that her bouquets have interesting effects on whomever she gives them to: a spinster teacher finds love, one classmate aces a test and another suddenly becomes very attractive to boys. Fortunately, a school science teacher informs Laurel that she is part of an ancient line of people called “Flowerspeakers,” who can use flowers to influence feelings. What follows is friction with her father and friends, along with some mild teen romance, as Laurel learns to use her gift wisely.

Geared toward teens ages 12 and up, White said, the message of Forget-Her-Nots is “a lot about using your gifts. Laurel discovers she has this gift, but there are temptations because suddenly everybody wants to use it for themselves. It’s about how she finds her place in the world and how the experience of love pours over her at the end (of the book).”
 
White said she hopes her Catholic values come through in the novel. “I didn’t write it to be a bestseller,” she said, “I wrote it to communicate what I love. There’s definitely a reverence for creation in the book and a very spiritual aspect to it — the idea of stewardship and that we are called to be of service in our world, to let our gifts shine for others, not just ourselves.”

Feedback from readers of all ages, from pre-teens to grandmothers, has been positive, White said. “People tell me they just adore the book and that it’s so vivid, they can almost smell the flowers. It’s so gratifying and exciting for me to hear that.”
 
White has also penned a second book, String Theories, which has not yet been sold. Forget-Her-Nots can be ordered at www.amazon.com and is available at area bookstores. For more information about the author and the language of flowers, visit www.amybrecountwhite.com.

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