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Utah-reared writer tells of rough childhood in ‘Hippie Boy’

Books » ‘Hippy Boy’ author Ingrid Ricks uses her tale of a rough childhood to help youth find their own stories.

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But that brush with the law also changed the teenager. "In those long seconds when the patrolman pointed his gun at us, pulled Dad out of our car and took him away from me, everything had changed," Ricks writes. "Dad had stopped being the person who was always going to save me. He had become the person who needed to be saved."

At a glance

The power of story

Ingrid Ricks will read from “Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story.”

When » Wednesday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m.

Where » Weller Book Works, 607 Trolley Square, Salt Lake City

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Passing it on » In some ways, the difficulties Ricks detailed in "Hippie Boy" might invite comparisons to other children-of-divorce memoirs, headlined by Tobias Wolff’s masterful 1989 "This Boy’s Life."

Yet Ricks doesn’t draw upon an adult narrator to provide insight and commentary on her youthful self, the kind of artful exposition for which Wolff’s memoir is known. Instead, perhaps what sets "Hippie Boy" apart is how its stories might especially resonate with young-adult readers.

The clarity of the teenage narrator’s voice is what sets apart the story of "Hippie Boy," says Denise Silvestro, executive editor of Berkley Books, who says Ricks’ relationship with her father invites comparisons to the characters played by Tatum and Ryan O’Neal in the 1973 film "Paper Moon." The national publishing house is marketing the book to a wide audience, but would be happy, of course, if the book were to find crossover young-adult readers. That’s a mission that Ricks is now focusing her promotional abilities on.

After the writer released "Hippie Boy," she got a call from Marjie Bowker, a teacher at a Seattle-area alternative school, who thought the book’s strong female narrator would appeal to her students. She asked if Ricks would come speak to her class.

Ricks knew her book wasn’t "The Hunger Games," and she wasn’t sure her story would connect to contemporary teens. Yet students, especially those in the ninth and 10th grades, responded to the book’s scenes about power struggles with a despised stepparent and the shame and helplessness sparked by a family’s poverty.

The students had had their own run-ins with authority. They had had their own experiences — with drugs, gangs, prostitution and running away. They knew what it was like to go to extreme measures to seek attention. "My story doesn’t even really hold a candle to theirs," Ricks says.

Bowker and Ricks expanded the unit into a publishing workshop, which led to the release of collections of the students’ stories, "We Are Absolutely Not Okay" and "You’ve Got It All Wrong," and eventually to a staged performance of those stories at the Seattle Public Theater. Now they’ve self-published their curriculum and are seeking grants to expand the program.

As a young girl, Ricks was always looking for someone to save her from her hard life. Now as a writer, she’s helping youths use the power of storytelling to save themselves.

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