Siah Fried and Georgie Ikuma, the authors of Tales from Swankville, made national news last week when the Pleasanton Patch of their new book was picked up by the Huffington Post.
The novel, narrated by the fictional character "Sasha," tells stories about over-the-top parenting in a town called Swankville, which many people in the community say doubles as Pleasanton. Though the book is fiction, some in the community — including Fried's neighbors — say they are mentioned in it, and believe it is a thinly veiled attempt to malign their character.
The original drew almost 300 emotionally charged comments — more than any other story in the website's history.
I followed up with Siah Fried this week to get her take on the firestorm.
When I arrived at her home, I was greeted by Fried’s mother. She had a sweet disposition and was genuinely kind, but it was obvious her role was to act as gatekeeper to the Fried household. After giving her my name and letting her know I had an appointment, she welcomed me in.
After some time, Fried greeted me with a weary look on her face as exhaustion had begun to settle in, a stark difference from the excitement her toddler son and dog had greeted me with at the door.
She apologized for her delay and explained she had been on the phone with multiple media outlets who were vying to secure her first televised interview.
Georgie Ikuma, a Castro Valley resident, arrived within minutes looking well-rested and alert. I commented on the noticeable difference between their energy levels.
Ikuma said that both authors had contributed equally to the voice of "Sasha," the narrator of the story. The characters, she said, were a compilation of mixed personality traits that both authors had observed among suburban parents — they were not based on any one parent, or more specifically, on any neighbor of Fried's.
However, within days of the original Patch report, Fried said her family became targets of animosity not only by Patch readers but also throughout town. She has a daughter in middle school, a daughter in elementary school and a two-year-old son.
Meanwhile, Ikuma had escaped the negative attention.
According to Fried, her Healthy Starts Makes Healthy Hearts program came under fire last Wednesday when she was asked to leave by a teacher after Fried arrived at to teach her class. The teacher, whom Fried didn't want to name, asked for understanding — she said she was required to consult the school principal after she was approached by a parent upset with the author.
That same day, Fried said her home was egged and her daughter had been the target of disapproving comments about the book by parents of other students. Fried said her daughter felt that she had been singled out in front of her peers.
Ikuma explained that although she was equally responsible for the stories, her neighbors, friends, and local parents had not retaliated but instead had thrown their support behind her.
“The backlash was fast and furious, and sadly a few of the sideliners got hurt,” shared Ikuma.
She referred to a couple businesses in town — a restaurant and a book store — for supporting the authors.
Aside from the direct disapproval of the book by some, Ikuma pointed out that ultimately the comments from the Patch article came down to a social class war.
“When reading through the comments on the initial Patch article, I noticed they degenerated into an argument on not just who is the better person, or the better parent,” she said.
“It actually became a contest regarding who lives in the better city. I found it surprising since the book clearly states the inclusion of all parents who currently find themselves in the midst of raising children today, regardless of geography or socio-economic status."
Some Pleasanton residents voiced concern in their comments about damaging Pleasanton's reputation. They worried about the long-term effects.
“That was not my intention," Fried said. "It was a select few who proclaimed to know it was Pleasanton. Even though in the book Swankville is billed as ‘Suburbia USA’, Pleasanton called first dibs. Someone announced 'Swankville is Pleasanton' on Amazon and no one seemed inclined to argue the point.”
Several commenters have questioned Fried’s intention for writing the book suggesting that it was a means to hurt her neighbors and former friends for past confrontations.
“That was not our intention at all," she said.
"It was written to ultimately help parents help their kids to become the best they can without expecting perfection from them,” said Fried.
“The children are portrayed in a positive light throughout the book. Our reason for writing the book was to get parents to take a step back and re-evaluate how hard they push their kids.”
“The book clearly puts the onus on us as parents. We all need to look in the mirror, check our behavior, and decide if we need to make some changes,” Ikuma added.
I asked both authors why they believed that there was a need for a book like this to be written and how receiving the message of the book could actually help children.
“My student responses to a newspaper article on teen stress and self-harm really shocked me,” Fried said referring to students from a class she teaches at .
“These kids are crying out and sending us a message that the stress is too much. We need to take the time to listen and hear them. I’ve personally walked too many students to the health office for eating disorder concerns, stress, and depression.”
Aside from the handful of residents that have voiced their negative opinions, Fried and Ikuma say that they’ve received numerous calls, emails, and visits by those who have purchased the book and support the authors’ message.
“We have had an overwhelming positive reaction from people all across the country,” said Ikuma. “Both moms and dads can completely relate to the stories within the book. They see themselves and their friends in these stories. The reactions have been overwhelmingly positive as people recognize these same types of behaviors in their town and they can relate.”
“And really, it’s only a small percentage of parents in my own town that behave this way,” said Fried. “I wouldn’t say its ‘parents behaving badly’ but it’s more about pushing your kids too hard to be perfect."
"Even I have fallen into the proverbial Swankvillian trap of being an over-the-top mom and it was because of my own short-comings that I wrote the book. I had to take a look in the mirror and evaluate how hard I was willing to push my own kids.”
Fried’s mom escorted me to the door after an hour of speaking to the women.
She thanked me for my time while the authors busily went about returning the several media calls they had missed during the time I spent with them.
Whether a sequel of Tales from Swankville will be on bookstore shelves in the near future remains to be seen but for now, both Siah Fried and Georgie Ikuma seemed to have to their hands full with the media swarm.