• James Parry

Westwood High guidance counsellor launches debut novel about marginalized teens


Karen Nesbitt will be launching her new novel at Westwood Senior Campus, 69 Côte St. Charles, Hudson, on Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. with wine and cupcakes and everyone is invited.

There is sage advice that publishers often give to would-be writers contemplating penning their first novel. Write about something you are familiar with, incorporating fictitious characters perhaps based on people you know.

Pierrefonds resident, Karen Nesbitt, a counsellor at Westwood High School Senior Campus in Hudson since 2006 and at Horizon High School in Pointe-Claire since 2015, has obviously taken that to heart. Her debut novel that she began writing in 2010, focusing on a young student who has hit a roadblock at school and is set in Hudson and Rigaud, has just been released by Orca Book Publishers of Toronto and has already sold out at some local Chapters stores.

Titled Subject to Change, it tells the story of 15-year-old Declan who is enrolled in tutoring by the vice-principal who believes he has the boy’s best interests in mind. Declan is not interested, however, and has a rough time enough coping with his parents’ divorce and the cause of it, his brother’s delinquency, and a part-time job he enjoys. His friends, and some surprising twists, are counterpoint to this difficult period in his life.

Explained Nesbitt in an exclusive interview with Your Local Journal, “I was inspired to write it by a student whose story touched me when I started working as a guidance counsellor. And I wanted to set it in Hudson and Rigaud because they are rural communities that hover on the edge of greater Montreal.

“I love those communities and I’m immersed in them through the kids I see at school. The story and characters are drawn on experiences from my work and of course, my imagination. When I was very young I loved writing, and knew I wanted to write novels about kids who felt marginalized. Subject to Change is the realization of a dream from my own youth.”

Nesbitt was awarded a writing mentorship through the Quebec Writers' Federation in 2014 with another author who helped her prepare her manuscript for publication.

Added Nesbitt, who has two children of her own, a 15 year-old son and 20 year-old daughter, “In my work at both schools, I talk with kids when they need someone to listen and help, and I also provide information and guidance when they’re thinking about career, education, and training options.

“My job involves helping kids to figure out what they know about themselves so they can make good decisions and develop self-reliance and confidence. Sometimes it's very sad, because a lot of them have very tough lives or go through very difficult things while they are still attending school. And these are the ones that often end up in my office. There is no better job in the universe for getting to know kids and understanding what makes them tick.”

Nesbitt hopes that readers will gain empathy for those youngsters, “… that we don’t pay enough attention to and whose inner lives are painful or difficult and for whom just getting to school can be a major challenge.”

Said Nesbitt, “We all have a story. Everyone has a life lived beneath the surface. And these kids, in my experience, are the real heroes. They make me cry in the office and I hope Subject to Change will engage readers to empathize with the character and maybe be more compassionate while also being entertained by the story itself.”

Added Nesbitt, who grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan and who is eager to get started on another book when time allows, “Stories stand out in small towns, everybody hears about them. News travels fast and big stories have an impact on everyone. And although I’ve changed names, local readers will recognize a golf course, the high school, and some places. But they will also realize I have fictionalized some elements, such as distance, and created others, such as the rink where Declan works. As far as characters are concerned, I’ll leave that up to readers to decide. Suffice to say that I was inspired by a young man I met in my work years ago, but the story is not about him.”

Subject to Change, which will be launched with wine and cupcakes at Westwood, 69 Côte St. Charles, on Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. and to which everyone is welcome, is available from Amazon, Chapters, some Montreal bookstores, and other online book sellers at $15 a copy.