With the temperate climates threatening to spill over into steamy, locals can often be found lounging in the area parks. When South of South resident Lorie Maher saw the many people gathered at Center City’s Rittenhouse Square Park, she had an idea.
“I wanted to be able to show a good part of Philadelphia, a lot of action happens there, an intriguing part,” Maher said. “It’s supposed to be high-class, but there are all kinds of people in that area park. It’s fascinating, the activity that goes on around there.”
Maher eventually let her imagination run wild, taking the next three-and-a-half years to pen a story about spoiled Christina Jackman, whose father raised her in the Rittenhouse Square area.
“I think they are just universal themes, like greed and the meaning of life, finding love and doing what’s right as opposed to following the crowd. I hope it will teach lessons,” Maher said of her self-published novel, “Rittenhouse Square Rebels.”
The 32-year-old English teacher at Eliza B. Kirkbride School, 1501 S. Seventh St., spends times extolling the virtues of some classic young adult books to her middle-school students.
“My book is like a classic book; the character is a young adult, teenager. But adults will enjoy it, too. It’s like, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ or ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ like that,” Maher said. “It’s not a romance genre, or mystery. It’s a lot of hidden themes, messages. It’s very deep with a lot of hidden themes and a good message inside of it.”
The main themes of the story about the eighth-grader are conformity, greed and capitalism, among others. The tome, which Maher said is on the long side for a novel, coming in at around 80,000 words, was the author’s attempt just to tell a good story.
“As a child, I read a lot of R.L. Stine and ‘The Babysitters Club.’ It’s not in that genre,” Maher said, adding that she has not read many of the contemporary books of this genre popular with young adults. “It’s different. It’s worth taking a look at if you want to see a beautifully told story. It’s not a supernatural thriller, it’s something different.”
Though her mother is still making her way through her copy — as the first edition of the self-published novel was sent to Maher May 11 — Maher is excited to have other people take a look and give her feedback.
“I’d like strangers to read it and give me their honest review,” she said. “I’m hesitant about people I know; I don’t want them to be nice. I’d rather someone that’s never met me before just read it and give me their honest critique.”
A childhood spent in Drexel Hill was similar to the setting of her novel, without some of the murkier mysteries. After graduating from Upper Darby High School, Maher headed southwest to the University of Pittsburgh.
“I was an English major and graduated in 2001,” Maher said. “I got my master’s degree in education, a two-year degree from Temple,” Maher, who had been a substitute teacher for a year in the School District of Philadelphia prior to returning for graduate coursework, said. “The [substitute] job was available and when I started it, I would go to some schools where I really liked the people. They made me feel welcome, and I liked working with the kids. I decided it was a good job for me.”
Maher entered the district full-time upon completion of her master’s — having now served a decade within it — and five years ago landed her current role at Kirkbride as an English as a Second Language teacher, as well as tutelages in the READ 180 program, which focuses on reading, writing and grammar.
“I had heard great things, that it was a really great school in South Philly, the principal was good and the student body was good. It’s been academically doing well, received AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] for six years in a row,” Maher said. “It’s a really very diverse school in the heart of South Philly. It’s culturally diverse with students from [many] countries.”
Alongside her teaching duties, Maher began the writing of “Rittenhouse Square Rebels.” The process, and the end product, has been rewarding.
“[It was challenging] just trying to fit it all together, an 80,000-word book, each piece is a piece of the puzzle. You have to fit each piece in correctly and get them all in, get all the words in and see if it fits and makes sense,” she said.
Once she had all of the pieces in place, she was able to look at the bigger picture.
“I’ve always liked words. I like vocabulary. I like a good, engaging story. I like to see students have an enthusiasm toward reading and see their reading levels increase — skyrocket — because they are engaged and learning new words all the time,” she said. “If they enjoy reading, they’ll read more later on in life.”
While she won’t bring her first novel into the classroom, she hopes her students, if they happen upon it, will find it an enjoyable read. With plans for promotional events in the future, the author is optimistic that her story will land in the right hands.
“I really hope [my students] will pick it up. I feel like it tells some good lessons. The main character faces a lot of problems that people face today like wanting to fit in, wanting to follow the crowd, coping with falling in love,” Maher said. “Well I hope to gain a wide readership, get some people talking about the book and what they think about it. I want to generate a debate or discussion, reach a wide audience to have them talk about the book.” SPR
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