Benjamin Ludwig’s gorgeous debut novel, Ginny Moon, is a labor of love. Narrated by a teenager with autism adjusting to life with her “Forever Parents,” who adopted her from foster care, the book was inspired partly by Ludwig’s own experience adopting a child with autism.
Ginny Moon, which New York Times–bestselling author Graeme Simsion calls “a brilliant debut,” is the launch title for Harlequin’s new Park Row imprint. The book will be published in 13 territories and is expected to make a major splash on Park Row’s inaugural list, toting blurbs from almost 20 authors and booksellers. The novel is aimed at readers who loved blockbusters such as The Rosie Project and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Ludwig, a former middle school teacher, wanted to explore how older children (especially those with special needs) learn, perceive, and interact with the world around them. “Every Wednesday night, I’d take my teenage daughter to Special Olympics basketball practice, sit on the bleachers, and listen to the athletes talk,” he recalls. “The way they communicated with one another—and not all of them were autistic—turned my understanding inside out.”
Ludwig found that people with autism are often misunderstood, not because they are poor at communicating but because the speaker and the listener are looking for different signals. He explained that an autistic person who is standing with a hand on his stomach might be trying to express hunger, while others might interpret that same action as an expression of pain.
In the novel, Ginny Moon is a 13-year-old girl with autism living with a new foster family in present-day Greensborough, Vt. Ginny likes playing the flute and listening to Michael Jackson. She has a penchant for math and Robert Frost poems. She is also struggling with her new, supposedly stable life.
Ginny was taken from her birth mother five years before and placed in foster care. Her new parents, Brian and Maura, are expecting a baby girl and want Ginny to be ready to live safely with an infant in the house. As they instruct Ginny about how to care for her future sister with a practice doll (which feels powerfully alive to Ginny), past traumas inflicted by her birth mother and abusive stepfather bubble to the surface, leading Ginny to attempt to contact her birth mother and organize her own kidnapping.
That decision begins a chain of events that at first brings Ginny closer to danger, but eventually leads her to deeper understanding and closure regarding her birth parents. Though sometimes harrowing, Ginny’s story is always powerfully moving and is ultimately an inspiring tale of overcoming dire circumstances to find happiness and security.
To create such a unique and deeply felt character, Ludwig started with the pure language of Ginny speaking and worked backwards. For instance, Ginny describes dusk the night of the kidnapping she’s been planning as “the night of the Harvest Concert but it isn’t night yet. The sun is going down but it is still day. I have been very, very good at the Blue House and at school so that I wouldn’t get myself unadopted.” Or when she is looking for food in a kitchen, she tells herself, “Inside I see one carton of twelve eggs and one carton of nine and some ketchup and twenty-two slices of bread in a bag and seven onions and an eight-ounce block of Grade A pasteurized cheddar cheese.”
“When Ginny’s voice came to me, I immediately started writing, letting her narrate lots of monologues,” Ludwig says. “Then I asked, what would cause a person to talk this way? Right away the answers came: she repeats things because she needs to reassure herself that they’re true; she confesses things internally because, in her world, there was a very real penalty for complaining. She counts because knowing how many slices of bread are in the bag gives her security. It gives her something concrete that she can know for certain.”
Ginny Moon is a captivating voice- and character-driven novel and a way for Ludwig to discuss important issues that are too frequently neglected. “The people who don’t think they have or deserve a voice are the characters I care about the most,” he says. “So you can see why it was important for Ginny to learn how to self-advocate. The type of victory she claims for herself at the end of the book is the kind I want every kid on the planet to be able to claim.”