“I love watching middle-schoolers become young leaders,” said Maurice Broaddus, an author and teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“She basically said, ‘Mr. Broaddus, write about me,’ ” he said with a laugh.
So he did, drawing on her personality and passion for activism.
In the book, the character takes on the corrupt city officials who are stealing money meant for community programs.
Through Bella’s experiences, readers might learn how they, too, can speak truth to power. They see how Bella asks questions, digs for information and attends government meetings open to the public.
For Bella, the hard part is being heard. Grown-ups dismiss her because she’s a kid. She shouts and stomps, so they figure she’s just acting out.
But with the help of a retired private investigator named M — whose concern mirrors her own — Bella discovers how to become a strong, clear voice for herself and her community.
A life of activism
Like his character, Broaddus has had a “heart for social causes” from a young age.
“I became curious and concerned about the world as a kid mostly through ministry in my church,” he said.
This concern has been fueled over the years by work with homeless teens, and jobs as a scientist and later a middle school teacher.
He’s also been shaped, Broaddus said, by the people and issues of the city of Indianapolis, where he has lived since he was 10 years old.
Broaddus is very involved with the local Kheprw Institute. This organization helps people to work together on affordable housing and food initiatives, such as community gardens. Broaddus especially enjoys helping with Café Creative, a performance space for artists and writers.
Inspired by community
All these experiences come together in the book. City neighborhoods spring to life. Real people are mentioned, such as the artist William Ryder. Quick-witted M is based on two friends, and Broaddus dedicates the book to them and to Bella, his former student. The protagonist is a homeless (or unhoused) teen, similar to those Broaddus worked with. Like some of his friends, Bella is a street artist; her tag, or special signature, is “Unfadeable.”
A popular writer of fantasy, horror and science fiction for adults, Broaddus published his first novel for young people in 2019. “The Usual Suspects” draws from the middle school antics of his two sons, now grown. It takes place in the same school that Bella attends in “Unfadeable.”
The very day he talked with KidsPost for this profile, Broaddus began writing his third middle-grade novel, set in the Indianapolis of the 1930s. Same city, different time — but this book, too, will explore the challenges of speaking truth.