Martina Boone had a limited knowledge of English and a strong Czech accent when she moved with her family to the U.S. as a child.
Boone knew she would have to work hard to catch up to her classmates and excel in school. She even anticipated that she might be teased by the other kids. What she didn't expect, though, was to be bullied by the one adult at school who was supposed to be on her side.
"I don't remember the kids quite so much. I remember the teacher," Boone says. "When we were doing group reading, she would correct my pronunciation in such a way that the other kids would laugh. She would mimic me."
Fortunately, that experience didn't hold Boone back from becoming an enthusiastic reader and writer. Now, she's the published author of "Compulsion" and "Persuasion," the first two books of a trilogy about uncovering romance, mystery, and a family legacy of magic in the deep American south.
With "Persuasion" hitting shelves this month, MTV News caught up with Boone by phone to hear about how she found her voice, where her heroine's trust issues come from, and why she doesn't dream of a confrontation with the woman who was cruel to her all those years ago.
MTV News: The way you were treated by your teacher is really pretty shocking. Being mocked for the way you spoke, did you turn to writing in part as a way to express yourself?
Martina Boone: Not exactly. I was pretty young, and by the time I was in fourth grade, I was not going to have people making fun of me for my accent. That just was not going to happen. So I started to work on it, to eradicate it, and eventually I spoke just like anybody else. But I did write things for years afterwards that I would never say out loud. A lot of my stories were pretty dark.
MTV: You were obviously quite driven and self-sufficient as a kid, despite being thrown into some pretty challenging situations. Does your heroine's journey mirror your own in any way?
Boone: My family moved from the Czech Republic to Denmark to Norway to the United States, and we left everybody and everything behind each time. You get a sense of finding your own space, the loneliness, and there's a willingness to trust people -- which goes away when you get betrayed. This story is about Barrie [the protagonist of "Compulsion" and "Persuasion"] finding herself, being willing to fight for herself, and finding that same balance between what you do for the people you love versus what you have to do for yourself. She comes from a very sheltered place, and her inclination is not to judge anyone. So she trusts the wrong people, because she feels sorry and she's craving those relationships.
MTV: On the subject of trust and betrayal, do you ever want to confront that teacher who treated you so terribly? Have you seen her since?
Boone: I know there are people who have those moments -- I once saw someone tweet online, when they got an award, "Take that, Mrs. Something-or-other from 5th grade!" But my self-confidence isn't great enough that I'd feel like that would be beneficial.
MTV: Or maybe you've moved so far past it that it's not worth your time or energy.
Boone: That too. I think she was a small person. Most bullies are coming from a place of insecurity. And I think teachers do feel overwhelmed, not just by people who don't speak English but by the sheer number of students, and if they had more resources, maybe they would do better. I don't think my experience with that teacher was all that different from the way she treated a lot of other kids.
MTV: It's interesting to hear how much empathy you have for her, in spite of how awful she was. A lot of people struggle to understand somebody who's mistreated them in this complex way.
Boone: It's funny you should say that. I guess I do have things in common with Barrie; that's one of her biggest problems. She has so much empathy for the people around her, and tries so hard to see the best in everybody. And ultimately, the lesson she learns -- I won't say which way she goes -- is whether or not she was right all along, not to judge, or whether she needs to change.
"Persuasion," the second book in the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy, is on sale October 27.