by Dennis Dalman
One day in class, Abby, a 15-year-old shy girl, suddenly experiences confusion and terror when she realizes her classmates are laughing and sneering behind her back.
Stricken by humiliation, not knowing why she is so suddenly a target, she rushes from the classroom and down to a bathroom where she discovers – to her horror –that she had had an accident due to menstruation. She then realizes one of her tormentors had taken a cell-phone photo of the blood-red accident.
That traumatic dawning, that cruel behavior, is the catalyst in Seven Chances, a novel for young people written by Heather Slee, a graduate of St. John’s Prep School and the College of St. Benedict.
Seven Chances explores the vicious world of bullying and how a young girl using wits, courage and wise decision-making can endure and survive bullies. Like many victims of bullying, Abby clams up and says nothing, even after some girls call her names, vandalize her locker and put the embarrassing photo of her menstruation accident on Facebook.
One day, her father, who knows something must be wrong, takes Abby to a new-age store to let her shop. Abby participates in a tarot-card fortune-teller’s reading by a mysterious woman at the store, and the woman gives her a pouch containing seven “magic” stones. For each stone, Abby can make a wish and change something from her past. At first Abby decides to use one stone to help make a decision to take revenge on the ringleader of her tormentors. But, alas, that doesn’t turn out so well.
Abby learns, through the remaining six stones, to make wiser decisions. Readers will have to find out just how surprising the ending of Seven Chances is.
Seven Chances was written, Slee said, for readers in the 12-16 age group. One of the themes of the 146-page novel is young people must learn to be true to themselves and do the right thing, even when making the right decisions must be achieved under adverse conditions.
Slee said her novel was inspired by a female relative of hers who had been teased and bullied in school. The cruelties made the young woman so self-conscious and guarded it took her years to learn to accept herself again and to re-establish any kind of self-confidence.
Some of Abby’s personality traits are similar to Slee’s. Both love animals and both volunteer at local humane societies.
Born in Willmar, raised in Atwater, Slee earned a bachelor-of-arts degree in English from CSB, then earned a master’s degree, also in English, from St. Cloud State University. She also studied art.
Now a Waite Park resident, Slee works for the Little Falls-based Atomic Learning and teaches teachers how to incorporate technology into the classroom. Her husband, Ryan, is an electrician for Al’s Electric in St. Cloud. They have a 4-year-old daughter, Nora.
Slee wrote her novel, on computer, mostly during lunch breaks at work or after putting her daughter to bed.
“I kind of winged it,” she said. “It started with the embarrassing incident (menstruation accident). I’d asked women I know what would be the absolutely most humiliating incident they could think of to happen in school, and that was the incident almost all of them mentioned.”
Slee worked hard on her novel, rewriting much of it until she felt it was just right.
Seven Chances is available at North Star Press of St. Cloud, which is its publisher; and also at Barnes and Noble and amazon.com.
The following are excerpts from the embarrassment scene in the opening pages of Seven Chances:
“Oh my God!”
I was jolted back from a daydream from a loud whisper followed by a stifled giggle. Then another whisper:
“Shh! Tell Brittney.”
“Brittney!” a hushed voice called. Snickers followed.
I started to feel hot but I kept telling myself that they were probably laughing at someone else. Why would they bother with me? Did they even know my name?
“Oh my God!” Another quiet burst, followed by even quieter laughter. I tried to focus on Ms. Brown’s writing on the board. Just ignore them, I told myself. Someone probably has a bit of paper in their hair or something stupid. Maybe I have paper in my hair. Big deal.
Now I heard shuffling behind me, like people turning around, someone slowly unzipping a backpack. More whispers. I was frozen – I couldn’t turn around and look or ask what was so funny. I just sat with my eyes forward, my face getting hotter and hotter. It couldn’t be about me, could it?
Soon it almost sounded like a huge crowd at a stadium, even though in reality it was just whispers. But the sound was deafening. It seemed as if the whole class was in on something. The whole class but me. I started to sweat and sunk my thumbnail into the eraser on my pencil repeatedly.
Then I heard it. The fake shutter click sound from a phone’s camera . . .
Finally, Ms. Brown noticed the uproar. Or at least she couldn’t pretend to ignore it anymore. She turned around, looking irritated . . .
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.