I’m thrilled to reveal the cover of Marilyn Barr’s debut novel…
Bear with Me was originally a journal entry describing my family’s first full day after moving to Kentucky in 2015. Main character Alison’s struggle to act normal with sensory processing disorder mirrors my own challenges. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a dysregulation of how the body perceives the world and its use of our seven senses. Each person has a different combination of over-responsive and under-responsive senses.
Alison has the same combination as myself, where we are overly sensitive to smells, tastes, and hearing. Social events that involve eating are a nightmare. It is not that I am a picky eater, but that different food textures scrap along the inside of my mouth to varying degrees. I will cook a large repertoire of foods but would only eat five different meals when I went to college. I knew my husband was “the one” when he didn’t make fun of my eating in our college cafeteria.
While I have normal eyesight with contact lenses, Alison and I are under-sensitive to touch, proprioception, and vestibular senses. This is where most of my social problems occurred growing up. I cannot feel if my shoes are on the wrong feet, my clothes are on backward, a sign has been placed on my back, or a teen boyfriend was grabbing my behind. Because of these issues, I decided to turn this aspect of SPD into Alison’s superpower. The last two senses describe where our bodies feel they are in space. Those of us who are under-responsive fidget, dance, and use grand hand gestures to verify the gravitational input most people receive naturally. You can imagine the trouble I had sitting in a desk at school.
In addition to SPD, Alison and I homeschool our autistic sons, both boys have savant syndrome. This portion of the autism spectrum is the characterized in television shows like “The Good Doctor” and movies like “Rain Man” where the person has one outstanding area of expertise to the detriment of other skills. In Bear with Me, Henrik is a musical savant with behavior troubles in public school. He sings, composes, and plays the piano at a virtuoso level. My real son is a linguistic savant. He excels in the areas of grammar and syntax, not only in English but in many foreign languages as well.
I hope to show readers a growing section of the homeschool community in Bear with Me referred to as secular homeschoolers. These families homeschool for reasons other than religion. The children of rural Strawberry are an hour’s drive from the nearest school, so each parent teaches their area of expertise with all the children in the community as classmates. In real-life Kentucky, we call these groups of families: cottage schools or parent-lead co-ops depending on whether money exchanged between parents. In Strawberry, the parents exchange teaching classes but do not pay each other monetarily. Green Witch Alison teaches math and science. Pizzeria owner Rosie Paulino teaches language arts and Italian. Also, her son Henrik takes online classes from a local university in his area of expertise (as my son takes foreign language classes from Outschool Professors in different countries)
Blue eyes, dimples, and silky brown hair; Grant Luther has all of Alison’s weaknesses.
When he asks for one last chance to save their marriage, she agrees to relocate their family to isolated Strawberry, Kentucky in pursuit of his career dreams. Grant views Alison’s sensory issues as limitations and protects her from outside threats. When he finds his new job includes changing him into a shifter in a war against the soul-sucking Sluagh he vows to keep the changes a secret. What he doesn’t know is Alison has been hiding a magical secret of her own. One that makes her a target of the Sluagh.
Will Alison emerge from Grant’s shadow to protect her family? And can Grant learn that being different can be a strength not a weakness?
“You look perfect. I mean perfectly healthy. I mean mostly uninjured,” she stammers. She places her tiny hand over her eyes.
Feeling braver than ever, I walk right up to her. I gently remove the hand from her face and hold it to my own. “See, I’m fine,” I whisper as I gently rub my thumb over her tiny knuckles.
Her eyes lift to mine and lock our gazes. I have always found the golden color of her eyes fascinating but never studied them up close. They are light brown with a golden star in the middle. I am literally star gazing as she takes in the injuries to my face. We stand there for about a minute, lost in time.
I wonder if she is thinking about when we first started dating, the hard times that followed, the present, or the future. I search her face for clues but don’t want to break the spell by opening my mouth. I decide to put said mouth to better use by lowering my head toward hers.
I have a diverse background containing experiences as a child prodigy turned medical school reject, published microbiologist, special education/inclusion science teacher, homeschool mother of a savant and advocate for the autistic community. This puts me in the position to bring tales containing heroes who are regular people with different ability levels and body types, in a light where they are powerful, lovable, and appreciated.
I currently reside in the wilds of Kentucky with my husband and son. When I’m engaging with the real world, I’m collecting characters, empty coffee cups and unused homeschool curricula. In my perfect world, we would use our talents to work together in the pursuit of the perfect, yet allergen free, pizza.