When Bainbridge High graduate Anisa Ashabi found herself isolating during the early weeks of COVID-19, she needed something to do. So, she set out to finish a long-forgotten book she had started writing in middle school.
Starting with 200 pages of original manuscript, Ashabi spent the next two years finishing the 516-page book, “Finding Chaz” which was published June 28. Published by All Earls Publishing, it has sold 100 hard copies and nearly 1,000 e-book downloads on Amazon.com.
The fictional book is an American coming-of-age story set in the 2000s about teen life and the trials and tribulations of high school.
Like many middle school kids, Ashabi, dealt with mental health issues. She had anxiety because she felt like an outcast, had trouble making friends, and dealt with bullies. But, her love for writing and her mother’s encouragement during eighth grade led her to write more than 200 pages of “Finding Chaz.” “I started writing ‘Finding Chaz’ as a way to escape my hellish school life a decade ago,” said Ashabi, who admitted that the characters are either an amalgamation of multiple people she either knows or knew or are wholly imagined.
When she entered high school she became immersed in her studies and set her writing aside for nine years to pursue other interests. She participated in Running Start and competed in kickboxing and qualified for national competition.
Ashabi went on to intern for U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer in Washington, D.C., studied communications at Washington State University, interned for KING 5 TV’s Evening Magazine, and worked in the Violent Crimes Against Children unit at the FBI Seattle office.
During the pandemic, Ashabi finished her degree and tried to figure out what to do. Her brother insisted that she finish the Finding Chaz story. For the better part of a year, Ashabi wrote and edited her story and by 2021 she had a finished manuscript.
Ashabi then sent the book to her third-grade teacher, Boo Schneider, who had recognized her writing talent and was instrumental in helping her reintegrate into American culture after living in New Zealand with her family.
“I didn’t tell her that I had done this until it was finished,” Ashabi said, adding Schneider “was over the moon,” when she learned that she had finished her book.
Ashabi said the book has received a lot of positive feedback, including comments that the book be made into a Netflix show.
“This is a whole new way of tackling tougher topics like bullying and racism,” said Ashabi, who understands the issues that affect teens. “I wanted to tackle it with humor because life isn’t black and white, it’s yin and yang … The characters are flawed but, they’re likable. You want to root for them. They’re definitely not perfect, but they’re on their way to being better.”
The main takeaway from the book is that the core of stereotypes is often the false belief that first impressions are everything. “The characters are multidimensional—they hail from vastly different backgrounds, with complex and intersecting identities,” Ashabi said.
Written for young adults, the universal themes of the book cross generational lines and readers of all ages are enjoying it. “Everybody remembers what it feels like to be bullied or to not belong,” said Ashabi who added “For some readers, this may be their first exposure to the unique struggles the characters face as a result of these identities.”
The book is narrated by Roxie Nazari, who’s fed up with being subjected to Chaz Humbert’s creepy come-ons and inappropriate antics, and she’s not the only victim. For more than three years, teachers, guidance counselors and school administration have been unwilling to end the harassment. So, Roxie takes matters into her own hands and finds herself face-to-face in detention with her harasser, setting her on a journey of self-discovery revealing the truth that she’s not the only one struggling into adulthood.
Ashabi said comments from parents and educators say that “Finding Chaz” is lighthearted, and serves as an excellent tool for initiating tough discussions surrounding mental health, racism, homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment. One teen reviewer said, “‘Finding Chaz’ is experiencing teen life, out loud.”
As for her future, Ashabi continues to work from home and hopes to eventually transition to writing full-time. In the meantime, she’s outlined a possible sequel to “Finding Chaz” and plans to begin writing in the fall.
“Finding Chaz” is a young adult book for ages 14-18 and is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Eagle Harbor Book Store. Learn more at Anisaashabi.com.