The Depiction of Police in My Books: A Reflection

I realized the other day that police officers played supporting roles in my two most recent middle-grade novels. In Blood Mountain, Makayla is a Ranger with the Division of Forest Protection, a young Black woman, Brooklyn raised; she is fierce and compassionate and awesome in every way, and she searches tirelessly for the two lost hikers in the story (I wanted that idea in this book, that if you’re lost in the wilderness, we won’t stop looking for you). In Upstander (Coming in Spring, 2021), Officer Goldsworthy, a Black man, returns from Bystander and again plays a small but crucial role. He’s a local cop with two bad knees working at the middle school. A strong but quiet presence in the lives of those students. There’s a beautiful scene, a conversation between him and Mary, the book’s main protagonist. I love what he tells her, his compassion for her brother’s struggles with addiction. Anyway, no agenda, it just happened: two cops, both decent and kind and capable, doing good work. That’s what I put out into the world in those books.
Below, “Chapter 13 [Mayakla]” from Blood Mountain. The chapters in this book are very short, and this one is no exception. It’s our initial introduction to this character. By the way, it’s a truism in children’s literature that young people don’t want to read about adult characters. Yet I’ve resisted that idea, while recognizing the problems (and cliches) when adults enter these stories and fix problems. So while I maintain that it is important and acceptable to include complete, fully-formed adult characters in these books, it’s important that the young characters have agency and ownership of their actions. I’m just saying that some folks might not think you can get away with a chapter, however short, that strictly about an adult. But I give readers more credit than that. 
13
[Makayla]
Makayla Devaroix awakens in the dark of her modest cabin to the sound of the alarm. Rise and blur. But first, coffee. A strong pot. Her mind is cobwebs. Even the sun doesn’t want to get up. Makayla is twenty-seven years old, with smooth brown skin and wavy black hair. Her brows are thick and striking above gray eyes. Fit and strong, she moves with an athlete’s economy and grace. She cleans the filter, pours the water, spoons the coffee grounds without thought; she could do this in her sleep and practically does. She sits on a low stool by the coffee machine, watching as it fills. She lives alone, does not own a television. The laptop is enough for podcasts, Spotify, and the occasional romantic comedy.
Yesterday had been a long, hard day, and today looked like it would be worse. She had gotten the call sometime around 2:00 A.M. from dispatch: a kayaker had gone missing out by a string of ponds off Paradise Lake. Makayla double-checked the map. It would take an hour in her patrol vehicle just to get close. She’d meet up with another ranger at the pull-off. They’d split up and begin a basic type 1 search. There were tributaries to cover, plus the kayaker might have carried his boat, or portaged, a short distance between navigable waters. The kayaker had been alone, an experienced backpacker, but had failed to return home as expected. Probably it was nothing. Or maybe he ran into real trouble out there. No matter what, it could take a full day to find the answer. 
If the body was discovered at the bottom of the lake, which is a thing that sometimes happens to bodies out here in parkland, it would require state police scuba divers and more gear and a whole lot more coffee to close this sad chapter. Makayla never got used to the sight of hauling a body out of the water, the skin gone gray, the eyes and lips eaten away by fish. With staff cuts and slashed budgets, Makayla spends most of her week chasing emergencies: lost hikers, injured adventurers, drowned teenagers, and wildfires. It’s simple math. The park is getting more crowded than ever before, particularly in the popular parts, with fewer rangers to cover the more remote territory. More and more people come in, knowing less and less. Impossible to do the job right. She’d seen flip-flops on mountaintops, hikers shivering from frostbite wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, clueless as to how to read a simple compass. Dumb as a box of nails. Most egregious to Makayla, they failed to respect the mountains. She finished her cup with a long gulp, poured the remainder of the pot into a travel mug, laced up her boots, and headed out.
This was her dream job. The city girl who majors in environmental science and forestry in college — discovers she loves it, needs it — and decides to become a ranger. Still true, though harder, and lonelier, than she ever imagined. 

 

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