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Quinn Wyatt + Kirby Larson: GUT REACTION (Crohn's)



Post by Quinn Wyatt

Why would anyone write a book about a kid living with Crohn’s, an incurable chronic disease with super embarrassing symptoms?


Because slightly over 1 million people in the US live with Crohn’s disease. And, out of those million people, about 80,000 are kids. Kids like Tess Medina, the main character in GUT REACTION. Kids like me.


I grew up with a writer for a mom, so it seemed like a no-brainer to ask her to write a book about a kid living with Crohn’s, because I thought it would be helpful. I was pretty surprised when she turned me down. Many, many times.


Later, she confessed that she didn’t think she had it in her to revisit that tough time in our lives before my diagnosis. As a mom now myself, I can imagine her anguish and worry when we couldn’t find out what was making me sick, let alone find something to make me feel better. But I kept asking because I really wanted to have a book out there that would help kids feel less alone coming to grips with the unpleasant and painful symptoms of illness and all of the changes a diagnosis often requires. And when I shared that with my mom, she said she’d do it . . . if we teamed up.


Since I hadn’t written a book before, my mom took the lead. We took ourselves on a retreat to create characters and build a plot. Then I got my homework assignment: starting to write scenes based on my own experiences.


Even though my symptoms began long ago, it wasn’t hard to recall those times. Like Tess in GUT REACTION, I became an ace bathroom detective because I could be fine one minute and suffer a diarrhea attack the next. Like Tess, I had a hard time talking about my illness, even to my closest friends. That led to confusion when friends couldn’t understand why I left early from a sleepover, or why I always had to sit on the aisle at the movie or why I was sometimes just too tired to participate.


It gets very old being the different one. The one in the crowd who can’t drink the fancy coffees all her friends do. The one who has to weigh whether a night out at a party will be worth the exhaustion the next day. The one who has to ask in great detail about menu items at a restaurant or risk suffering a debilitating flare-up. It’s hard for others to understand what it means to take medications on a daily basis, dealing with the side effects that can come with them, or getting your blood drawn so frequently that you have to keep switching arms to avoid scarring. 


I was a shy kid and it took many years of managing a disease to teach me the importance of advocating for myself. Back in school, that meant explaining to a teacher why I couldn’t “take care of personal needs'' during the minutes-long passing period. Sometimes that meant calling my parents to come get me from a party (including my high school graduation party). Sometimes that meant standing up to doctors when they just couldn’t seem to hear what I was saying. When you have a chronic illness, learning how to say what you need is not just a nicety but a requirement for survival. 


My mom and I are so pleased that children's books are starting to normalize conversations about physical and mental health realities and issues. By writing a hopeful, honest, and sometimes humorous story of living with Crohn’s disease, it is our desire to add to that conversation. We want to support the Tesses of the world dealing with various hard-to-talk-about conditions by saying it’s okay to talk, even about the embarrassing stuff. Especially about the embarrassing stuff! And for those unaffected by physical or mental health challenges, we hope this story offers insights that may foster greater understanding, empathy, and kindness. 



"A tight team from the get-go!" (Photo credit: Amanda Waltman)

KIRBY LARSON is the acclaimed author of many books for young people, including the 2007 Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky; Dash, winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction; Duke; Liberty; Code Word Courage; Audacity Jones to the Rescue, and Audacity Jones Steals the Show, and the new Shermy and Shake chapter book series, to name a few.


QUINN WYATT has lived with Crohn’s for most of her life and is encouraged by all the progress that has been made over the years in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases. This is her first book. A mother-daughter writing team, both Quinn and Kirby live in Kenmore, Washington.




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