JACKSON – Many people have thought that the experiences of their work place would make for the material for a fine book. A teacher at the Christa McAuliffe Middle School took that idea and made it a reality.
Jen Conley, who appropriately serves as a literacy teacher at the school, utilized her years understanding the needs and mindset of young adults to become a published author.
Conley’s first young adult novel, “Seven Ways to Kill Harry” was recently published by Down & Out Publishing. Conley said that the central message of her book is “that you can grow strong enough to survive a bad situation.”
“I am hoping young adult readers can really relate to the situations and lessons that our character experiences,” Conley said. Her accomplishment was recognized with a celebration this month at her school where she had the chance to talk about her novel with her co-workers and students.
Her novel is set in 1983 New Jersey and centers on a boy named Danny Zelko, who is 13-going-on-14 and who is trying to find a way to get rid of his mother’s new boyfriend, Harry.
Harry is described in reviews as “a creep, drinks too much, locks Danny out of the house and calls Danny Danielle.”
Conley said that her book is “an authentic look at the friends, enemies and “frenemies” that sometimes comprise a teenager’s inner circle, and the humor and heartbreak that sometimes come with adolescence. I drew from my first-hand knowledge of how kids this age feel.”
She added that Danny “is going through a very difficult time, and because I’m around kids all day and because we often read stories and novels about kids in tough situations, I have gotten to know not only how my students feel, but about how they would react.”
The new author has already garnered some good reviews beyond the presentation she made to several groups of students at her school on June 13 and June 19.
Author Lee Matthew Goldberg who wrote “The Mentor and the Desire Card” series described her book saying it was “a poignant nostalgia trip to being 13 in the 80s that also has a sharp bite. It tugs at your heart-strings while making you laugh out loud. Never has the attempt to get rid of your mom’s evil boyfriend been so charmingly portrayed. A must read!”
“Jen Conley brought me back to my childhood with this gripping debut. Sometimes harrowing, often funny, this is a great and necessary read for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like for boys in that liminal stage, when faced with the challenge of a bad role model,” said Thomas Pluck author of “Bad Boy Boogie.”
Conley said that young adult novel readers love to read about the experiences of their peers, so she was excited to create a fictional world she thought would speak to teen readers.
“As a teacher I’ve been privy to the many disputes and reconciliations kids experience, so writing about Danny’s disputes and reconciliations came easily,” Conley said.
Conley said she added a generous helping of humor into her book “because I know kids love to laugh. Just like a little humor in the classroom gives kids a break, humor in a novel also gives the reader a break.”
McAuliffe School Principal Debra Phillips said that Conley “is an amazing teacher. She develops highly engaging lessons, develops positive and meaningful relationships with her students and leads by example. Her knowledge and passion for literature is unparalleled. She is an asset to our Literacy Department and a role model to our students.”
Media Specialist Lisa Crate said Conley’s book, “is the perfect depiction of how being 13 can be awkward, challenging, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking. I know my students will love this book.”
This summer will feature some time for Conley to be creative again.
“I am finishing writing up another book this summer,” she said. “I am finishing up the final edits.”