The Legend of the Starfish features a ‘wise’ adult offering counsel to a child with endless enthusiasm. The setting is a beach strewn with starfish. The Young One is walking along the shore, retrieving one starfish at a time, and tossing it back into the surf. The Elder, relegated perhaps by time and conditioning to stating the obvious says, “You’ll never save them all.” From a glass half-full perspective the Young One answers, “I know. But it makes a difference to this one,” and tosses another starfish back into the sea.
Whether we succeed or fail, teachers are called upon to do likewise – to make a difference, against the odds, by any means necessary, and (as quiet as it’s kept) to never settle for making a positive difference in only one life. Midnight Meanders Author Annika Jensen credits particular teachers with making a difference in her life. The recently-published, freshly minted high school graduate says what made the biggest difference in her over-scheduled, pressure-cooker of a life were teachers who simply took the time to listen. Their doing so allowed Sheinbach Jensen to face state and national exams, sleepless nights, a suicide among her agemates, the move out of state of a best friend and the college application process all while writing and getting her first novel published. Hear, here!
- “Midnight Meanders” by Annika Sheinbach Jensen. Lodestone Books. 192 pages. $14.95.
While Midnight Meanders is deftly written from the first-person perspective of a male high school senior, each of Sheinbach Jensen’s characters is thoughtfully crafted and fully formed. The reader is given enough detail in each case to satisfy curiosity yet not so much as to make the unfolding plot predictable. Take for example this side of a telephone conversation:
“… I haven’t had a productive conversation with my parents in months, and this girl I think I like just keeps inviting me into her life then shutting down again.” He caught his breath, realizing that it had run out while he had been talking so rapidly. “Sorry to rant,” William added. “I don’t like to rant, because it’s generally all I hear from other people. I never get a chance to talk, except with you” (86).
In less than a paragraph, the main character is revealed as a complex individual who is at once refreshingly expressive and self-aware yet equally conscious of his listening friend and how he must appear to her. In other segments of the storyline, William is by turns awkward, insecure, and intent on making things right when things go terribly wrong. And, while Sheinbach Jensen’s characters are engaging and multi-faceted, it is in her descriptions of art class and the projects produced there that her writing is at its lyric best. The assignments in art class are as complex and challenging as the balancing act between the academic demands and social interactions that make high school the proving ground it becomes for many.
Questions & Answers from an interview with the author follow.
In what ways has your education served to move you forward or hamper your progress?
I think the biggest sort of hinderance that education had on my writing itself was just the fact that I had no time to write. In school, it’s all, “be good at math and science”. It’s all about the S.A.T.s (Scholastic Aptitude Tests). There’s little focus on writing creatively anymore. When you write in school it’s analytical and technical – not focused on creativity. That, and I was always occupied after school with sports activities and stuff. While it may not have been a hinderance I wasn’t always able to prioritize [my writing]. I just didn’t enjoy school very much. I’ve always enjoyed learning. But for somebody like me, who’s an introvert and struggling with anxiety, it was hard to get everything written- it was a negative environment.
How did school influence your writing?
[T]alking more about school as opposed to the educational aspect, it was a good place to get ideas and observe the adolescent experience… I would be sitting in class, waiting to get started, [watching groups of people interact]… it’s like shuffling through radio stations. [I’d] tune [one group] out and shift to another group based on what I heard and saw. Those are two ways that being in high school influenced what I was doing. [I wrote in my college application essays] about this – what it was like to be observing people and incorporating that into my writing.
Will there be a sequel?
The thought came up and i quickly shot it down. I felt comfortable leaving it where it was. I didn’t want to take control of what readers thought should happen. It was where I left my development or that part of my life. I thought that particular story with them was over. I thought it would be detrimental to take it further though I became attached to their characters. I don’t see myself writing more about them.
In Midnight Meanders, Sheinbach Jensen manages to let the characters reveal themselves simultaneously to the reader and to one another. This balancing act invites one to take a fresh look at oneself without necessarily revisiting any of the sturm and drang of one’s personal high school experience while inviting reflection and encouraging resilience in readers of all ages. She plans to continue writing while in college though historical fiction is where Sheinbach Jensen says she is heading next. May her writing and academic careers be even more satisfying and successful than her delightful debut novel.