Holly Dobbie started Grade 8 in a new school and vividly recalls being beaten and bullied repeatedly by other kids during that first year.
“I always avoided the school bathroom because if you were in there, you were vulnerable to attacks,” recounted Dobbie, a Murrayville resident who’s real life encounter with high school bullies in her Vancouver school served as a partial foundation for her new book.
Just days ago, Dobbie released her first novel, called Fifteen Point Nine, a story about courage, determination, and hope.
It’s a young adult novel that tells the story of 15-year-old Aggie. Much like Dobbie, she is tormented by bullies at school. But when Aggie comes home, life is no easier. Her mother is a hoarder, alcoholic, and neglectful parent.
Having had enough, Aggie decides to fight back, turn her life around, and save her mom.
Aggie’s inspiring story fills the pages of Dobbie’s new paperback novel that, while not autobiographical, is loosely connected to some of Dobbie’s own experiences.
“I remember being scared every day, and even fearful of walking in the neighbourhood,” she said, recounting how a girl in her class took an instant dislike to her and “continuously threatened me with violence until one day, she beat me up.”
Her high school nightmares didn’t end there.
“There was also an older boy who would kick my friend and I in the hallways, and throw our book around every time we walked past his locker – there was no alternative route,” she pointed out.
“Looking back, I wish I had talked to someone. But, of course, I was afraid that doing so, would have somehow escalated the situation. But I was wrong. A bully thrives when the torment is kept secret, and yes, that idea is in the book,” she said.
“The way to make bullying stop is to expose the bullies and make them accountable for their behaviour.”
But it wasn’t just Dobbie’s encounters as a bullied student during her first year in high school that helped lay the ground work for this book.
It was her later experiences as a Grade 11 and 12 teacher, first in Port Moody for 13 years then as a teacher-on-call in Langley, plus volunteer working with at-risk youth, that helped shape this storyline.
And admittedly, Dobbie said, even her kids, 25-year-old Andrew and 23-year-old Ceilidh, organically contributed to her first book – whether they realize it or not.
“I subtly incorporated some of their idiosyncrasies and age-specific vernacular turns of phrases and words,” she said.
“My hope is that the book will find its way into the schools, and into the hands of the kids with whom the story might deeply resonate,” Dobbie added.
“I want to stress that it’s a book for all young adults, not just the ones who like to read, but also for the ones who need support, acceptance, and a sense of belonging in a world that can often be hateful and unforgiving,” said Dobbie, who has lived in Langley for the past 20 years.
“The book is about young adults getting help – asking for help, not suffering alone, and knowing that there is the necessary support for them out there and available to them, if only they would ask for it – please.”
This book began as a short story. “But then the characters insisted on more,” Dobbie said of the creation process.
Fifteen Point Nine was actually several years in the making.
“I had to take a break for almost a year when my mom got sick; it’s difficult to focus on creative endeavours when your mom is disappearing into an increased state of dementia,” she explained.
But the book is finally done and arriving on local bookstore shelves.
When Dobbie first found out that her agent had secured a publisher, it was a moment of “inner calm, even though I was out for the day with a group of energetic friends,” she said, recalling the moment that came more than a year and a half ago.
DCB Books in Toronto picked up the juvenile novel, the publisher saying he loved it – insisting he would have read it in one sitting, if he hadn’t had an award ceremony to attend that night.
Then, when Dobbie actually saw the book for the first time on the Coles shelves, again she said she felt a sort of inner calm.
“As though, well, there it is. It actually happened, and I have it in my hand. It’s such a long and arduous process, and the emotional investment is spread over so many years, that it’s not a lottery ticket jumping up and down sort of moment, it’s more of a quiet sense of accomplishment moment.”
Her first book is available at Wendel’s in Fort Langley, as well as at Coles and Chapters, and online through Indigo and Amazon.
“I think there will be some local readings and signings, but there are no secured dates yet,” Dobbie said.
Asked if there is a sequel to Fifteen Point Nine in the works, Dobbie could only say “maybe.”
She’s just putting the finishing touches on a different story right now – one with a cast of different characters. While it’s another young adult, Dobbie said this book will resonate with a bit of an older youth audience.