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Patricia Smith Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Year of Needy Girls (2017) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Patricia Smith is an American literary fiction author best known for the novel “The Year of Needy Girls.” Since 2006, Smith has been teaching Creative Writing and American Literature at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, VA. She was born and raised in New England and went to Virginia Commonwealth University from where she got her MFA. She credits her success to her schooling at VCU, where she studied under Bill Tester. She never believed that she could become a published author and it was Tester who made her believe that she could write. While she scoffed at the idea of going professional, she soon realized that the only thing holding her back was herself. She needed to make it a priority if she were to publish fiction. Just like with other things she had accomplished such as training for and completing a triathlon, training for bike riding competitions, working out and teaching, she set her mind to it. By 2017, after months of writing and waking up at home and juggling home and work duties she published her debut “The Year of Needy Girls.” Apart from Bill Tester, she also credits her thesis advisor Marita Golden, who encouraged her in her quest to become an author.

Before publishing her critically acclaimed work of fiction, Patricia Smith had published several non-fiction works. Her nonfiction has been featured on several anthologies featuring stories about gay teachers and their experiences. Her work has also been on a variety of other prestigious newspapers such as Salon and the Tusculum Review. A College of Letters major at Wesleyan, Patricia Smith has teaching experience that spans more than three decades. She also has experience teaching in a private school since she had been teaching at the Petersburg, VA Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology since 2006. She paints a picture of what it is like to teach as a gay person in “The Year of the Needy Girls.” which explores the challenges and joys of teachers like her. Smith herself mostly attended public schools and it was not until she went to Wesleyan that she got the private school experience. She would then got to become a teacher at The Pike School in Massachusetts, where she got a second-hand taste of the money and privilege her students had. She drew on her experiences and feelings to create the lead character, Deirdre, though she also feels that some parts of SJ are also drawn from her feelings during that period. Nonetheless, the happenings and much of the setting of the novels are from her imagination. While she initially wrote the novel to talk about homophobia it has come to be known as much for its themes on teaching experiences as much as it is about homophobia.

Smith’s “The Year of the Needy Girls” is an analysis of the themes of community unrest, homophobia, and false accusations. In fact, one reviewer called it the story of a modern witch-hunt. Smith who has been writing for as long as she can remember asserts that she was inspired to write the novel on the premise of a small town because of her own experiences. She had always been writing nonfiction in the form of memoirs and essays but thought that a novel lent itself better to storytelling and would reach a wider audience. During the 1990’s Smith was a teacher in Cambridge, MA where she taught fifth and sixth graders. Things had been fine for the LGBTQ community until a ten-year-old boy was abducted sexually abused and killed by his next-door neighbor. Many in the LGBTQ community were filled with dread that the community would target them much like they did when Leo Riviera is killed in the novel. The expected backlash never did come in Cambridge, though much of the credit was due to the grace of the parents of the boy that was killed. However, the feeling and story stuck with Patricia for years and she started wondering what would have happened if the parents had behaved differently. What would have happened if misguided people had decided to react viscerally and target all LGBTQ people who worked with kids?

“The Year of Needy Girls” by Patricia Smith is a story set in the small town of Bradley Massachusetts. The leads in the story are Dierdre Murphy, a high school French teacher who teaches rich kids and SJ her girlfriend that works as a librarian in the poorer side of town. Patricia expertly builds the tension by showing the cracks and divisions in their relationship even in the face of their being subtly ostracized by the townspeople. Dierdre thinks to have a house on the leafy suburbs and teach wealthy kids is the epitome of success since she comes from a working-class background. SJ comes from a wealthy background, went to a private school and disdains the privilege enjoyed by her girlfriend’s students. She also understands how perilous navigating that world can be and tries to warn her girlfriend to be more cautious. But Deirdre would not listen until a student named Anna Worthington decides to act on her crush. Unfortunately, the kid’s mother sees her planting a kiss on her favorite teacher’s lips and she does not like it. Dierdre suddenly finds herself accused of child abuse though she believes the allegations are fueled by homophobia. In the meantime, SJ thinks that she has developed feelings for the lead suspect in the murder of the boy and now has to reexamine her own loyalties. She has to explore her misconceptions and bloodspots and it is not going to be easy. As Dierdre and SJ work through their personal dramas can they keep their relationship going or will it crumble? Smith writes a nail-biting character study that studies the intricacies of why people need relationships and community. She also analyzes how one problem that could have been easily resolved can balloon into personal or even communal disaster.

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