Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Ben Franklin & Mindfair Books Hosts Author Karen Wilfrid, OC ’09

HarperCollins Books
Just Lizzie features an asexual eighth grade girl researching a science project.

Ben Franklin & MindFair Books presented an author’s talk by Karen Wilfrid, OC ’09, on her latest award-winning book, Just Lizzie, Feb. 24. Wilfrid’s grandfather, John Elder, OC ’53, introduced her to the audience of approximately 20 people, mostly from the town of Oberlin with a few College students.

While attending Oberlin, Wilfrid majored in Creative Writing and Spanish. She now lives in Massachusetts teaching seventh grade English, but continues to write on her own. Just Lizzie centers an eighth grader in the 21st century figuring out her identity through a science project and the internet. 

“Lizzie does a science project over the course of the book that mirrors her own internal process of self-discovery where she’s exploring plants and animals that reproduce asexually and she’s like, ‘Look, this is a thing that exists in nature, even though, obviously, actual reproduction is different than sexual identity,’” Wilfrid said. “Her final spin on the project is to realize that there’s an interdependence in nature between plants and animals in different ways.”

Although Lizzie is an eighth- grader figuring herself out, and her creator is a seventh-grade English teacher, both figure out something about themselves through this story. 

“She starts to see that she has relied on other people and has close connections with other people like her best friend and her brother,” Wilfrid said. “And as I started to see that happening for her in the story I thought, ‘That is really true.’”

Wilfrid wrote this middle grade novel to put asexuality in the spotlight for younger people because she herself wishes that she had a book like this growing up. 

“I identify as asexual, and when I came to Oberlin, I had just figured that out for myself and it took some time, at a later point in my life than Lizzie, to understand what that meant,” Wilfrid said. “Part of what made it hard was not having any books that showed characters who made it from beginning to end without partnering up with somebody, so I was always looking for books like that and would be so excited when I found one, which didn’t happen very often.”

As a part of a reading group in Massachusetts, she got feedback throughout the process of writing the book, and when she asked which chapter would be best to read at this event, they helped her decide on the third chapter because it is an earlier, uplifting part of the book.  

By reading from the third chapter of her novel, the audience was able to get a sense of Lizzie as a character while also getting to hear about the supporting characters. 

Additionally, throughout her journey with Creative Writing at Oberlin, she mentioned writing groups as an integral part of her life in the major.

“I was able to think, especially in the process of how this book came to be, how it wouldn’t have existed the way that it does, if not for people who I had met at a certain time,” Wilfrid said.

She also credits the atmosphere of the middle school she teaches at.

“It was the day-to-day middle school things that inspired different pieces of the book, like the way kids talk to each other,” Wilfrid said. 

By taking inspiration from her own life and experiences, she was able to write a book that can be enjoyed by not only middle school students, but anyone. 

“The idea that middle-grade books don’t have to be just for middle schoolers, a book about a girl doesn’t just have to be read by girls is something that speaks to me,” Wilfrid said. “I’m an adult who loves to read middle-grade and YA books, not just because I’m a teacher of that age group, but [because] there’s something in there that speaks to me that I enjoy.” 

Wilfrid’s talk spoke to many of the people in attendance, including College fourth-year Marney Harris. Harris majors in Creative Writing and initially came to this event because it sounded interesting to her. 

“I didn’t actually know going in [to this author talk] that [the book] was about a girl realizing she’s asexual,” Harris said. “I really should have known that because I’m asexual and I look out for that kind of stuff.”

This coincidence, in addition to her overall enjoyment, left her wanting to read the book even more. 

“It was interesting to hear about her getting to the point where she’s published a book and [can] come back here and read it,” Harris said. “It’s nice to see successful Oberlin graduates who are writers.”

More to Discover