Tribune Staff Writer
Tackling issues such as restorative justice and aging, local author Ann Walsh’s new young adult book Whatever is an engaging read.
A plot driven novel, the book follows the story of Darrah, a 16 year-old who loses her temper and pulls the fire alarm in a hospital, hurting Mrs. Johnson (Mrs. J.) in the process. As a result, Darrah agrees to participant in a Restorative Justice Circle — the alternative being facing a judge in court.
Darrah comes face to face with Mrs. J at the circle, where sanctions are placed on her: she must help Mrs. J. two afternoons a week, something she hates — at first.
The story tells a tale of many people, Darrah and Mrs J., and each of their respective families, who are challenged to try and understand each other, each other’s decisions and even each other’s own unique hardships.
This is Walsh’s 11th book. Some of her earlier books include Your Time, My Time; Shabash; and Moses Me & Murder, which was re-released earlier this year.
As a restorative justice facilitator herself, Walsh became fascinated with the idea of victims and offenders finding themselves face to face in a mediation circle.
“The recidivism rate to reoffending is way less than if people go to court or go to a jail, because if you go to court there is somebody telling you what you have to do. You’ve been bad, here is your punishment. When you go to a circle you look at the person you’ve hurt,” she said.
“Not far into the training I thought I don’t know if anyone has written a kids book about this, and then I began to see how to work a plot in.”
Darrah, Walsh’s protagonist, is initially reluctant to take part in the restorative justice circle. When asked if she will take part, she responds in her typical fashion: “whatever.”
Yong adult readers will recognize the pressures Darrah faces from parents and the responsibilities put on her, whether she likes them or not. Despite this, Darrah is relatable and likeable. Aside from her actions that put her into the justice system, she is a normal teenager, hoping to earn a part in the next theatre production, and falling into young love.
Whatever, however, relates to the older reader as well. Mrs. J., who is thought to be pushing 90 in the book, has her own hardships that come from aging.
Walsh, who was writing the book the year she turned 70, relates some of her own experiences to Mrs. J.
“Old is something we never thought we’d be. It’s always somebody else who is old. And it’s an adjustment to age but to keep your sense of self,” she said.
Despite the difference in ages between Mrs. J. and Darrah, the two learn to connect through one simple thing — cooking.
“I wanted to say that generation, age, does’t matter. That you can be friends. That generations can learn from one another,” said Walsh.
All of the recipes that the two characters make are included in the back of the book.
“I hope somebody will look at some of the recipes and enjoy them,” Walsh said.
Along the journey the two characters take together — Darrah with the justice system and Mrs. J. with the issues associated with aging — secrets are revealed and decisions are made that affect the course of each other’s lives.
Whatever is a story of acceptance that grabs the reader and holds them in until the very end, which contains some twists of its own.
And what does Walsh hope youth reading the book will come away with?
“A desire to start cooking, knowledge that the justice system does work, and an awareness of an empathy for older people, because there’s going to be a whole lot of them pretty soon,” she said.
Walsh will be available for book signings tomorrow, Friday Aug. 9 at the Open Book.