Toronto novelist Bev Katz Rosenbaum explores the impact of COVID on teens

Author Bev Katz Rosenbaum

Toronto author Bev Katz Rosenbaum’s young adult novel, I’m Good and Other Lies gives a voice to older teens whose mental health has been affected by the uncertainty, isolation, and lost routines and friendships over the course of the pandemic.

“It’s the book of my heart and it’s really important to me,” said Katz Rosenbaum. “It’s for all the teens who have been stuck at home during the shutdowns. I wrote this to help them know they’re not alone if they’ve felt lonely and flailing.”

I’m Good and Other Lies, will be released Sept. 25 by DCB, an imprint of Cormorant Books. The novel tells the story of high school student Kelsey Kendler, who is trying to navigate some heavy life issues: a recent move, an addict mom, a distant dad, lack of friends, heartbreak, and a diagnosis of depression.

With the author’s satirical bite and sharp wit, readers can’t help being invested in the struggles of the book’s heroine.

“Kelsey is living in a difficult situation with difficult people but is finally allowing herself to look ahead with hope for the future,” said Katz Rosenbaum. She explained that at the start of the novel, Kelsey is headed to college next year and will finally be escaping her family’s problems… and then—boom. The pandemic strikes. “There’s a lockdown, and she’s stuck at home in this awful situation, and can’t even look forward to the future she’d been counting on because who knows if that will come to be.”

As the story unfolds, we watch Kelsey unravel.

“She doesn’t have good coping mechanisms and falls into substance overuse,” said Katz Rosenbaum. “We do see Kelsey struggle but later in the story she regains some hope for the future.”

Like Kelsey, the author has had people in her life who struggled with substance abuse and anger issues.

“I’ve also struggled with depression in the past and I think everyone during the pandemic has experienced, to a certain extent, isolation, fear, loss, and grief,” said Katz Rosenbaum.

Katz Rosenbaum’s novel is based in reality. In the first few months of COVID, Canada’s Kids Help Phone recorded large increases in distress calls from adolescents. Toronto’s SickKids Hospital found that 70 per cent of children surveyed reported worse mental health during the initial lockdown.

What makes Kelsey Kendler so relatable?

“I didn’t sugar coat anything. I showed that she’s not perfect; she doesn’t deal with things well all the time and she’s angry a lot of the time. But at the same time, she does have a sense of humour about life… and recognizes life is both tragedy and comedy. And I think that the light touch will help some of the heaviness go down,” said Katz Rosenbaum.

Set in Toronto, the story also pokes fun at the gentrification of Parkdale, where Kelsey lives with her family.

Katz Rosenbaum’s primary message in the book is that asking for help is okay.

“You shouldn’t beat yourself up for feeling sad or stuck or depressed or angry, but know you can develop coping mechanisms like Kelsey does at the end. Feeling safe, not just physically, but emotionally, with people is probably the most important aspect of mental health,” said Katz Rosenbaum. “Depression is very much tied to loneliness and feeling unseen and unheard. The most important thing to work on is developing connections. Even if has to be online groups, find your people.”

 Katz Rosenbaum has written several books for young people, including Who is Tansky, a satire of the 2016 U.S. election set at a middle school. Her next novel is about Amelia Bassano, the “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets.