News, On Campus

Smith Explores the Coming-of-Age Experience in New Novel

Holding the finished, tangible version of his debut novel was a special moment for Sean Smith, editor of the Boston College Chronicle, who recently published Transformation Summer. 

“I think every writer imagines, ‘What would it be like if I actually put out a book?’” Smith said. “But to do it, to go through the process of writing it, I have this actual corporeal thing in front of me that I can hold. It’s really very special because, you know, it doesn’t always happen.”

Smith spoke on Oct. 20 at the book launch for Transformation Summer. Released in early June, the novel follows 16-year-old Seth as he grapples with the split of his parents, his forced attendance of a personal-growth camp called “Toward Transformation,” and the events that occur during his first two weeks of camp. The novel switches between the perspective of Seth when he was 16 and his adult self. 

During his talk, Smith explained how the idea for the novel came to him. 

“I was on the western edge of the Mass Pike going through The Berkshires, which of course is very lovely,” Smith said. “And at that time of day, there’s not a lot of traffic, so I just had a flash of inspiration. I don’t know how else to describe it.” 

John Shakespear, senior digital content writer for BC’s Office of University Communications, said Smith’s novel allowed him to experience the feelings of both a teenager and an adult.

“I really enjoyed the mix of perspectives,” Shakespear said. “I thought it was a really interesting balance. It captured both the excitement and not knowing what the world was going to be like and also the looking back.” 

Smith said he hopes his novel will teach readers how to learn and grow from their life experiences. 

“How do you reach people?” Smith said. “Well, you know, maybe get them to think about universal themes. One is how we grow, and how we change, and the special places that we go and what they give us. Can we do anything with those experiences? And the big thing, of course, as I said, is ‘What memories do we hold and why? Can they hinder us as well as help us at the same time?’” 

Smith also reflected on the difference in approach between his novel and his prior writing for the Chronicle, explaining that even when he writes a newspaper article or nonfiction piece, the aspects of the story must fit together. 

“It’s somewhat different,” he said. “It felt really important to me that [the novel] has to make a certain amount of sense. There has to be a certain amount of integrity to it.”

Although he experienced difficulties with the publishing process, Smith said he was not dissuaded. 

“I had plenty of rejections,” Smith said. “But, I had to just step back a little bit and say, ‘Okay, I want to give it my best possible shot.'”

Smith said he did not set out for his novel to become a personal growth book, but he instead intended to share his story with others.

“It’s a coming-of-age novel, memoir-style,” he said. “And when you come of age, you don’t go back.”

October 22, 2023