Lisa S. Lenkiewicz CTLatinoNews.com
“A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.”
This is the premise of a newly released, young adult novel, written by Cindy L. Rodriguez, an English reading specialist in West Hartford and a longtime Emily Dickinson devotee.
With the title taken from a line in a Dickinson poem, the book, “When Reason Breaks” (Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books), has been hailed by Newberry Honor-winner author Margarita Engle as a story “infused with a rare blend of suspense and sensitivity, despair and hope.”
Cindy Rodriguez was feted at a book release party held Feb. 14 at the West Hartford Public Library, where a long line of friends and family waited patiently for the warm and engaging author to sign copies of her newly released book. Guests were treated to a lavish array of food, including a Latino favorite coconut drink, the coquito, which is referenced in the book. Quotes from Dickinson were printed on paper hearts spread around the food. Creative gift baskets inspired by the American poet’s life were awarded in a free raffle.
Proud family members included Cindy’s dad Juan, originally from Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and Cindy’s mom Neuza, who hails from Brazil. The couple met when Juan was in the Peace Corps in Brazil. They first moved to Chicago, Cindy’s birthplace and residence until the end of eighth grade. She and her two older siblings moved to Connecticut when Juan was offered a transfer for his job at IBM.
Driven and hardworking from a young age, Cindy started college at UConn at the age of 16. Majoring in journalism and English, she rose to the position of editor at the college newspaper. After she graduated in 1993, she worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and then worked with the investigative team at The Boston Globe. Returning to the Courant to cover the education beat, she began to consider a career as a teacher.
She completed the Alternate Route to Certification program and started her teaching career as an eighth grade language arts teacher at Portland Middle School. Her next step was to earn a Master’s degree in English at Central Connecticut State College. Subsequently, she was hired as a seventh grade language arts teacher at King Philip Middle School in West Hartford. She later earned another certification in remedial reading and has continued her career at King Philip School.
It was in graduate school when she first studied the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson, a recluse who authored some 2,000 poems before her death in 1886. Cindy would ponder Dickinson’s life as a teen today, wondering how she would handle the pressures youth face in this fast-paced world.
A longtime teacher, Cindy often conjured up scenarios involving Dickinson and teenagers. Finally recording her recurring daydreams, she says the novel slowly began to unfold. She ended up splitting Dickinson into three different people and adding modern characters representing people in Dickinson’s life.
Not only does Rodriguez hope more people will be exposed to and inspired by the life and poetry of Dickinson, she also hopes readers will better understand depression after finishing the fictional book.
Says Rodriguez, “Depression isn’t always triggered by a single, obviously tragic event. It doesn’t discriminate. People who seem to have perfectly decent lives can still be clinically depressed and suicidal. Many teens are truly at risk and are not just going through an emotional phase. I hope if teen readers see themselves in the novel they’ll realize they are not alone and that recovery is possible.”
According to Rodriguez, suicide continues to be the third leading cause of death for people ages 15-24. “Latina teens are at greater risk than their non-Latina peers for depression, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide,” notes Rodriguez. “The stigma of mental illness prevents people from seeking treatment. Most Latinos with mental health problems go untreated.”
She also has personal experience with the disease, having been diagnosed with depression in her 20s.
Publishing the book—her first–coincides with a personal milestone. During the eight years in which she penned her novel, found an agent and then got published, Rodriguez not only “birthed” a book but adopted a baby from Guatemala, a girl she named Maria. Maria just celebrated her eighth birthday, so Rodriguez jokes she has been working on this project Maria’s entire life. Today, Cindy and Maria reside in Plainville with their rescue mutt Ozzie.
Rodriguez recently finished a second novel, “Aesop’s Curse,” which is undergoing consideration for publication.
Concluding her talk at the West Hartford library, Rodriguez, 43, had a message not only for young adults, but for adults of all ages: “Pursue your dream. No matter how old, go for your gold.”