Elly Swartz is definitely a Middle Grade author to watch. I featured her book Dear Student, and she has published other novels as well. Her upcoming book, HIDDEN TRUTHS (10.31.23) has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus and would be an essential addition to any library collection.
Dani and Eric have been best friends since Dani moved next door in second grade. They bond over donuts, comic books, and camping on the Cape.
Until one summer when everything changes.
Did Eric cause the accident that leaves Dani unable to do the one thing in the world she most cares about? The question plagues him, and he will do anything to get answers about the explosion that injured her. But Dani is hurting too much to want Eric to pursue the truth–she just wants to shut him out and move on. Besides, Eric has a history of dropping things he starts. Eric knows that and is determined that this will be the one time he follows through.
But what if his pursuit brings him into direct conflict with another friend? Where does Eric’s loyalty really lie?
In our last interview, you said the following about your new book HIDDEN TRUTHS: “At its heart, this story asks how far you’d go to keep a promise to a friend.” In what ways has this story shifted since you started writing it?
I love this question. I began this story in 2001. It has taken me 22 years to get it right. But some stories you can never walk away from. And this was one of them.
Originally, Hidden Truths was told only from Eric’s perspective. But years after I wrote the first draft, I realized readers needed to hear from Dani, too. I wanted them to see how both Dani and Eric were feeling and experiencing life. That perhaps neither character was all right or all wrong. And by showing both points of view, I was hopeful that readers would have empathy for both Dani and Eric. Even when, or maybe especially when, they’re behaving badly.
What also shifted was the scope of the bullying Eric experienced. As I wrote this story, social media and kids’ exposure to online content exploded. Bullying online became a very real experience for my readers. So I felt the bullying that Eric experienced needed to expand to include not just traditional name calling and physicality, but the online aspects, as well.
What hasn’t changed through the years is the heart. This book has always been about shifting friendships and how far you’d go to keep them.
I’m so proud of this story. And that I stayed with it for 22 years. Recently, I was honored to learn that Hidden Truths has received 2 starred reviews! A first for me. (When I learned about the stars, there were many happy tears!)
★ “A warm testament to the healing power of mutual respect—and doughnuts.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
★ “Swartz’s latest is realistic fiction at its best.”—SLJ, starred review
A very full heart!
I definitely felt empathy for both Dani and Eric when I read HIDDEN TRUTHS. The book also puts a spotlight on how different people are affected by the same event. In what ways do you think this will help kids who might be going through similar struggles?
Truly, this was the reason I revised Hidden Truths to add Dani’s point of view along with Eric’s. I think kids—or maybe people of all ages—often believe their experience is the only way to process a particular event. And they assume their friends know this. So when those friends aren’t compassionate or understanding, they get mad. What they don’t realize is that there are many ways to experience something. There is never just one way. And the assumption that others know what you’re thinking without telling them, is also a fallacy.
Which brings me to the importance of communication, empathy, and understanding in this story and in life. Each person brings their own life experiences and emotions to a particular event. That changes how that event impacts them. My hope is that Dani and Eric’s journeys will help readers see this. Understand that no one’s experience is THE experience or THE right way. It is just theirs. And I hope that readers can honor that. Respect the differences. See past their own way of processing something to understand and empathize with another.
Dani and Eric found their way back to each other with understanding, compassion, and doughnuts! What’s your secret sauce?
Well said! What are some books you wish you’d had as a kid?
As a kid with anxiety, I think I wrote Finding Perfect, Give and Take, and Dear Student for the kid in me. I think if I had seen someone like me—someone who worried a lot—on the page, I would have had a better understanding of my 12-year-old self and would have developed tools for navigating those big and sometimes confusing feelings.
And I’m pretty sure that I wrote Hidden Truths, in part, to understand the kid in 7th grade who bullied me. I wonder about her a lot. I wonder what was going on in her life at that time. I wonder if she ultimately learned to be kind to herself and others. I hope so.
I hope so too. What are some of your current projects?
I’m so excited to share this with you. My next book, Stand By Me, is about a take-charge sixth grader Bess Stein who brings together friends, a crush, and a group of rockstar librarians called the Book Warriors to fight a book ban happening at her middle school. This book will fly into the world in 2025. I love Bess and I love this book!
Elly Swartz is the acclaimed author of six middle grade novels: Finding Perfect, Smart Cookie, Give and Take, Dear Student, Hidden Truths, and Stand By Me. Swartz’s books reflect her commitment to raising awareness about mental health and neurodiversity. Her debut novel, Finding Perfect, was named one of the Best Children’s Books About Mental Health by the Child Mind Institute, Dear Student was recommended by Parents Magazine, and her upcoming book Hidden Truths has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Stand By Me will fly into the world in 2025.Swartz studied psychology at Boston University and received her JD at Georgetown University School of Law. She travels the country meeting with thousands of students each year to empower their own personal narrative. Swartz resides in Massachusetts. Connect with Elly at ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz, on Instagram or Threads @ellyswartzbooks.