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Christyne Morrell: TREX, The Origin Story (Social Anxiety, Introversion)




As an introvert, I’m proficient in the art of ghosting -- slipping out of parties undetected when the effort of socializing becomes too exhausting. After one such escape, someone asked my husband where I’d gone, and he rightly explained that I needed to go home and recharge my batteries. This answer was met with confusion from the other guests, even a hint of judgment.


Later that night, when he told me about this brief interaction, I resolved to write a story for introverts and the socially anxious. That story would eventually become TREX, my upcoming middle-grade novel (due out in August 2022).


The first thing my mind seized on was that innocuous statement: I needed to recharge my batteries. I’d heard that phrase hundreds of times, but this time, I wondered: What if someone literally had to recharge their batteries? What if that person had to plug himself into a charger until he had enough energy to face the world again?


And Trex was born.


After a car accident, my main character, Trex, receives an experimental brain implant which has to be re-charged regularly. And that’s not all he has in common with introverts. His technology causes him to emit small static-electric charges. In other words, he zaps anyone he touches. As a result, he has to keep other people at arm's length. He feels disconnected and different. To my fellow introverts/the socially anxious, these “side effects” will sound all too familiar.


Trex longs to fit in and be “normal,” but when his classmate, Mellie, learns his secret, she is shocked (no pun intended) that he’d want to alter himself. She considers his electric fingers a superpower, even dubbing him “Lightning Boy.” Mellie is an introvert in the traditional sense - she’s quiet and reserved, drawing energy from introspection. Her classmates tease her and call her “Mellie the Mouse,” and she suffers from severe social anxiety. Yet she has no interest in changing who she is. On the contrary, she considers her ability to quietly observe the world her superpower - essential to her role as an amateur detective.


Unfortunately for Mellie, we live in a world designed for extroverts, where gregariousness and charisma are valued and quiet people are often overlooked, at best. Roughly half of us cringe at the thought of public gatherings and social interactions, but we feel compelled to conform to an extroverted society that doesn’t suit our personalities. Why should we, like Trex, aspire to be something we’re not?


In the book Quiet, Susan Cain makes a compelling argument that being an introvert isn’t a flaw -- an argument I found revolutionary when I first read the book years ago. I’ve only recently been able to internalize this idea, and it was certainly never imparted to me during my awkward middle-school years.


In TREX, I wanted to explore this concept in a way kids could understand, and leave young introverts with a specific message: you don’t have to twist yourself (or your stomach, for those of us who suffer some form of social anxiety) into knots to act like an extrovert. There are times when breaking out of your shell is well worth the effort, like to make friends or achieve personal goals, but being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re inherently broken -- a lesson Trex comes to learn and Mellie already knows. Unlike the anxiety that plagues her, it isn’t something she needs to “fix.”


If only someone had told me as much when I was their age.


On the night that TREX was born, I left a party and started plotting a story instead. And on several occasions after that, I slipped away from social events, guided by the blinking red light telling me my batteries were critically low. I recharged them with the things that give me strength: solitude, quiet contemplation, and writing stories. Because that is my superpower, one I might never have activated if I’d stayed at the party.


And I wouldn’t have it any other way.



 


Christyne Morrell writes stories and poems for kids of all ages. Her upcoming middle-grade novel, TREX, has been called “smart, thrilling, loads of fun, and perfect for ‘Stranger Things’ fans!” (Elizabeth Bunce, award-winning author of the Myrtle Hardcastle series). She is also the author of the novel Kingdom of Secrets (Delacorte 2021), poetry book The Fool Catcher (2021), and picture book Abra, Cadabra & Bob (2019). Her work has appeared in Highlights, Spider, and The School Magazine. She can be found online at christynewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @ChristyneWrites. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and beagle.