“In the Hole” is a new book by Ben Levin, an autistic teenager with a passion for writing. Ben is proud to see his young adult novel released and regards his autism as a gift, not a curse. “In The Hole” follows a nine-year-old named David Kimball who finds his safe and secure world unexpectedly unraveling after discovering that his father has lost the family restaurant business and, subsequently, the family’s home. Forced to live in a borrowed car until it too is lost, David, his parents, and his sister, Julia, desperately seek shelter. After finding temporary housing in a decrepit inn, together with other individuals facing homelessness, David struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy even as his family faces the challenges and trauma of being homeless.
Ben recently discussed his book via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in writing and why do you focus on young adult novels?
Ben Levin (BL): I got interested in writing when I was 10, however, I have always loved making up stories. What got me into writing was my mother kept mistaking one of my stories as a “book” and I thought, “why not turn it into a book?” So, I did. As it turned out, writing was something I really enjoyed and was considerably good at, so I decided I wanted to keep writing. I actually don’t focus only on YA novels. I understand why you would think that because my first professionally published book “In the Hole,” is a YA novel, but I prefer writing children’s and middle grade books, with a few young adult books. The topic I picked for In the Hole, homelessness, was more appropriate for young adult readers, and that is why I chose to make In the Hole a YA book.
MM: What gave you the idea to write a story about financial hardship and homelessness?
BL: One day when I was at religious school in eighth grade, my rabbi showed my class a video about homeless children in Florida. Hearing about these kids’ struggles made me want to help and I thought that maybe writing a story about someone who experiences homelessness was how I could do so; to raise awareness and inspire others to become more active in the fight to end homelessness. I then imagined David and decided to write down his story.
MM: Is the character of David similar to you in any way?
BL: David, the lead character in In the Hole, is someone who I put some of myself into, but we definitely also have a lot of differences. For example, we are of different religions and David is much more athletic and passionate about sports than I am. He also loves video games; I don’t. However, we have other things in common. We are both on the short side with brown hair, we both love writing, and I do have a bit of an interest in sports. Additionally, we both really appreciate our friends, are extra close with our mothers, and are very emotional.
MM: What’s your favorite part of this book and why?
BL: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I’d probably go with any of the major friendship scenes, such as when David’s friends stand up for him when he is being bullied, or when Julia’s friends regularly visit her in the hospital, or any of the scenes when David and Gloria are doing things together. Friendship is something which is really important to me, and one of my favorite things to write about, and I love exploring different friendship dynamics. That is why I’d probably go with any of the friendship scenes.
MM: What’s the best feedback you’ve received about this story so far?
BL: There is a review I received on Amazon that I really like. You know how you can pin comments on Instagram? Sometimes I think about how if I could pin Amazon book reviews, I’d pin one from Maria Foscarinis, the founder of the National Homelessness Law Center. Maria’s review, which is actually seven paragraphs long, gives a lot of detail about what works well with the book and its potential to make a difference. Maria even gave a little critique by telling me that some of the resources David has, such as the inn, are unusually fortunate as they are usually not available to people facing homelessness. She also however acknowledged that In the Hole highlights the importance of such resources and noted that the fact that the Kimball family had access to them doesn’t detract from the story. I appreciated the honesty and thoughtfulness of Maria’s review.
MM: How did you find your publisher?
BL: One of my editors was familiar with Jumpmaster Press and suggested she pitch it to them. When we were prepping In the Hole, she recognized how much potential the book had to impact the homelessness crisis and decided that it should be my first professionally published book. She showed In the Hole to Jumpmaster Press’s owners and they agreed to publish it. I am very grateful to Ghia Truesdale for introducing us.
MM: You have autism and consider it a blessing, not a curse, so how does the condition influence your life?
BL: One way autism influences my life is that as a result of being autistic, I have done a lot of work on myself that has made me very self-aware. For example, I am very good at knowing when I cannot handle something and asking to leave an event early or go to my room, even if I’m in the middle of a conversation. I also feel like autism has helped make me good at writing. I am great at coming up with dozens of story lines and keeping them all in my brain. My brother says that everyone on the spectrum has a superpower and that mine is my writing. I am also very good at sticking with things that matter to me, and also at getting things done. I see both of these skills as results of my autism.
MM: Are you currently working on any new books that you’re especially excited about?
BL: I am currently working on four different stories. One is a biography about the Wright Brothers. Another is about a boy who navigates the world through his love of books. I am also writing a musical about a girl who gets whisked away to a magical world. Finally, I am writing a story about Gloria, who is a friend of David’s in In the Hole. It’s kind of a sequel to In the Hole but focuses not just on homelessness, but also on racism.
MM: What themes and topics might you like to cover in the future?
BL: Hmm, that is another good question. I don’t really know what topics and themes I want to write about in the future. It will probably depend on whatever I’m reading. I am considering writing more books about homelessness, and I also want to try and be more diverse with my writing. My favorite things to write about, other than friendship, are animals, history, and sports. I’m probably going to keep writing about those four topics. But whatever themes or projects I take on, I’m sure they will be lots of fun! J
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
BL: I just want to keep writing more stories and publishing my stuff to bring both joy and awareness to my readers. I also want to exemplify the power of dreams and how dreams really do come true; specifically, I want the fact that my dream came true, to inspire others to follow their own dreams. Most of all, I want to fight all of the negative stigma around autism, and I want to help every other autistic person to understand that we should not hide or be ashamed of our different brains. We need to be proud of who we are. I have a shirt with the autism symbol (rainbow infinity) as well as the words “I’m Autistic and I’m Proud” on it, and I would love to eventually sell shirts with that brand. I also dream of helping to change Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month, as well as helping to drive hate groups out of business. I really want to help everyone on the spectrum know they are as capable of leading a full life as anyone. That is my mission.
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