In our most recent interview on Jaro’s podcast, Tomeka Winborne had the honor of speaking with the gifted author Kamichi Jackson about her latest novel, K My Name Is Kendra. Jackson shares with us her writing process, the inspiration behind the book and how personal experiences influenced the plot, and reveals information about the upcoming sequel.
The young adult novel follows Kendra James, a depressed teenager who feels detached from the world. When her older sister reappears after being missing for a decade, Kendra’s life becomes a little brighter–until the two sisters are forbidden to see each other. And when her uncle begins to pamper her with attention and gifts, 15-year-old Kendra finally begins to feel seen. But when he makes a move one day that changes everything, Kendra finds herself in an even darker place that seems impossible to recover from.
Covering topics such as depression and sexual abuse, K My Name Is Kendra is certainly not a light read, but it is an exceptionally important one, particularly for the young adult audience. “Because the story was getting a little bit heavy, I had to put it away at times because it was a little too sad for me, but I was sure that the story had to be told,” said Jackson, who spent seven years bringing Kendra’s story to life.
Kendra’s depression was written from a place of personal experience for the author, as Jackson suffers from the crippling mood disorder. Due to the stigma surrounding depression, she left it untreated for years. “It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, early thirties that I really began to accept and embrace that this was something that I have to deal with,” she said.
In a crucial discussion, Jackson spoke about the warning signs of depression. “Being withdrawn is one of the big things. Suddenly, this person is a little more quiet, a little more to themselves. They just don’t communicate in the way that they used to … Things change in a really startling way.”
Although readers are aware of Kendra’s depression, Jackson explains that in the first book, it serves more as the foundation for why her life begins to fall apart. However, the subject of depression is far more evident in the upcoming sequel, Starring Me As Myself, as readers learn how Kendra handles the traumatic events that have occurred. “I want to make sure these messages are told especially to the youth,” she said.
To raise awareness about sexual abuse, Jackson created the #IKnowKendra campaign in April, which is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. “It came down to I know a Kendra in my life. It could be your sister, your niece, your cousin,” she said. “It could be “#IAmKendra for some people, because they have experienced it.”
In an excerpt from her blog post about the campaign titled “What’s Your Story?” Jackson wrote: “Am I Kendra? I can’t say for sure yet. But, I do know her. You probably do too. Please help the Kendras of the world by being there to protect them, lift them up, and help them put their lives back together. They need you.”
Listen to the full conversation with Kamichi Jackson on Jaro’s podcast. Learn more about K My Name Is Kendra and stay up to date with the release of Starring Me As Myself by visiting the official website.
Watch the poignant book trailer below, spoken by Elisabeth Rush.