Most of the writers we publish in Stone Soup are published only once. This is not a bad thing. Even some very famous authors, like Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind) and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), are known for the one great book they wrote. But over the years the pages of Stone Soup have also featured the work of young writers who sent us one great story after another. Some were published twice, some three times, some even more. The current record [in 2016] – seven times – is held by William Gwaltney, whose stories appeared in Stone Soup between 2006 and 2009. The Girl Next Door is the featured story from our March/April 2016 issue. It is the fourth story by Evelyn Chen to appear in Stone Soup. We can’t help but wonder if frequent contributors like Evelyn, who is clearly passionate about writing and very good at it, will go on to write professionally when she grows up.
We love every one of Evelyn’s stories and hope our readers do too. If you look closely, you will start to recognize her literary voice. “Julius’s Gift” [January/February 2014], “No Regrets” [March/April 2015], The Voice of the Seal [May/June 2015], and The Girl Next Door [March/April 2016] are all well-written, entertaining stories, with complex, relateable characters. In addition, each story has a powerful message to convey. Clearly, Evelyn has strong feelings about injustices in the world. She realizes her stories can address those injustices and maybe even change some minds.
The narrator of The Girl Next Door is a girl named Hazel. When Hazel’s mom arranges for her to teach piano to the girl next door, who happens to be blind, Hazel’s prejudices come out. Via is a sweet girl who learns quickly. She likes Hazel and would like to be her friend, but Hazel doesn’t give her a chance. She is certain that Via is “different.” The implication is that she thinks Via is inferior. In subtle ways, Evelyn shows the reader that Hazel is wrong. Via is polite and friendly. Hazel, on the other hand, comes off as immature, pouting when she finds out she has to teach a blind girl, plopping down on the couch and glaring at the ceiling. She makes sarcastic comments like “Whatever” when her mom tries to reason with her and “Oh great” when her mom reminds her it’s time to go next door. The reader sympathizes with Via and realizes early on that blind people are no different from sighted people. As we read along, we want Hazel to recognize this fact too. Finally, after a confrontation during which Via tells Hazel how she feels, Hazel wakes up and begins to change. An injustice has been righted.
Two of Evelyn’s three other published stories also tackle injustices, from sexism in Ancient Rome (“Julius’s Gift”), when boys learn to read but not girls, to the environmental problem of seals getting trapped in fishermen’s nets in The Voice of the Seal. “No Regrets” has a message of a different kind. Rhonda is fiercely competitive, and she’s rude to the other girls on the track team. Bailey dislikes her, even though Bailey’s mom tries to help her understand that Rhonda’s behavior has a lot to do with her family’s problems. Rhonda’s brother is gravely ill and needs an operation her family can’t afford. Rhonda doesn’t just want to win the Oregon State Championship Race, along with the prize money. She needs to win. In the surprise ending, Bailey learns two big lessons: 1) there are more important things in life than winning, and 2) sometimes when people aren’t nice it’s because they are struggling and need our compassion.
Evelyn Chen will turn 14 in a couple of months, so, sadly, we may not see more of her stories in Stone Soup. But we hope she keeps writing. Maybe one day we’ll be picking up a copy of her new novel at our local bookstore.
Is there something you feel passionate about? Maybe you’ve been the victim of bullying, or you’ve watched someone else get bullied, and you wish you could stop it. Maybe you’re caught up in the presidential campaign, and you agree or disagree with some of the candidates’ positions. Perhaps you’re an animal lover who feels strongly about how animals are treated when they are kept in zoos or raised for their meat. Wouldn’t it be great if you could persuade others to see the world the way you do? Like Evelyn, you could make a difference in your readers’ hearts and minds with a well-written story. Think of a group of characters. Give them personality traits that make them believable, but show us their weaknesses too. Some of their thinking is off. What will it take for them to change? This could be the beginning of your next great story.