October 26, 2018
By David Nordby The Brillion News
BRILLION – “This is your time and this is your world … Claim your world … School is actually your training ground.”
This was the message that author Crystal Chan had for Brillion High School and eighth grade students during a recent visit. Chan’s message wasn’t placed in a cheery speech; it was a message to students that they would have to face harsh realities that past generations left behind.
The new book by Chan, “All That I Can Fix,” is about a teenage boy whose world gets turned upside-down when a zoo of exotic animals takes over his small town. The book is both funny and heartbreaking. In the story, Ronney’s father tries to kill himself and his mother is pill-addicted. After a shooting at the zoo, the book shows both sides to the gun control argument.
The book mirrors reality in current society. Chan says that she learned about herself while writing it, too. She stepped out of her pro-gun control mindset and carved out the issue from both sides.
“It took me a long time to want to hear the other side of the gun debate and that took a lot of inner-work,” Chan says. “A lot of my own inner growth needed to happen that the book really challenged me to grow in ways that I’m hoping that this book will challenge readers to grow.”
David Nordby/Brillion News photo
The tale took Chan seven years to complete in part because she lost her agent and editor because they told her the book was too dark, too cynical and too violent for younger students.
“At that time, the book didn’t make sense, but as people started lining up politically and the country became even more polarized, it seems strangely appropriate for today’s world,” Chan said.
Chan has been busy outside of writing. She’s a public speaker, she’s a Wisconsin Public Radio regular and in the spring, she’ll be a lecturer at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois after the school approached her asking how she was able to see such a contested topic from both sides of the aisle. She will also speak at Lewis and Clark Community College.
“It’s listening, treating other people as equals, compassion,” Chan says. Compassion will be a central focus of the class at the university.
“If I see you as an equal, and you see me as an equal, that actually has fundamental ramifications for how we live our lives,” Chan said.
Chan grew up in Oshkosh, attended Lawrence University for international studies and is from a mixed family, like the character Ronney in her new book. She wanted to be an author from the time she was three-years old, but her father encouraged her to pursue the business world.
“It was only when I was about 28 and had a really boring job that I was like, ‘What am I going to do with my life,’” she recalls.
Her first book, “Bird,” was completed in two years and is for middle school students. That story gets into the hardship of the loss of a sibling and family dynamics.
“I really feel like it’s really important for kids to really start critically analyzing the world that they live in,” Chan says. “Don’t just accept it. Let’s really take some time and think about what is being handed to you, how are you going to deal with that.”
Instead of metaphorically throwing rocks from caves, she says, feel for each other.
“We really need to step out of this dehumanization cycle,” Chan said.
Her visit in Brillion was part of the Fox Cities Book Festival. It was the first time she spoke with high school students.
“I thought the message was awesome. She kind of challenged you, if you paid attention,” principal Peter Kittel told students afterwards.
Chan’s message to readers is succinct.
“There are no good guys. We’re all guilty. We all need to get better at exploring different perspectives,” Chan said.
Information about Chan and her two books is available online at www.crystalchan.net.
This story first appeared in the October 25, 2018 print edition of The Brillion News.