By A. J. Paquette, Walker Books for Young Readers, 2011
One of the most frequent questions I am asked by folks who have heard about or read Nowhere Girl is: Where did this story come from? The idea of a character who was born in prison, and grew up there for her whole young life, is one that is shocking and practically unheard of. The story seed itself originated from a news article I read about a child who had grown up in a similar circumstance, born and raised in a prison in Thailand. Yet I am always quick to assure potential readers that the story is not nearly as dark as the one-liner might make it sound.
While thirteen-year-old Luchi’s life has never been easy, and certainly doesn’t get any easier as she makes her way out into the world alone, at the same time it’s not as grim as such a story might have been. It was always my intention that the story should center on Luchi’s journey and her growth—how would this stark and sheltered upbringing have shaped her outlook on the world? How would she find her way and move on from there? What kind of person would she be? One thing I knew right away was that I didn’t want her to be a victim. I didn’t want to focus on the darkness. Instead, I wanted Luchi to own the kind of resilience that would allow her to rise above her circumstances. How she comes to find and embrace that resilience—both in making peace with her past and in setting her course firmly toward the future—ended up being much of the emotional thrust of the book.
While a big part of the book centers on Luchi’s emotional journey, it also contains many active elements—not the least of which is her long physical journey from the north of Thailand, south to Bangkok, and beyond. To be able to accurately render this journey required huge amounts of research on Thai culture, geography, language and customs—which I found nearly as enjoyable as the writing process itself. Readers will experience fun and fascinating tidbits ranging from floating markets, to street-side food vendors, to the hair-rising motorcycle taxis of Bangkok.
Above all, it is my hope that children, parents, and teachers will enjoy this look at a character who, despite having grown up in such a wildly atypical environment, is really not so very different at her core: just a girl, trying to make her way in the world, looking for a place to belong.