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‘Vent’ allows for voices: BHS teacher pens book about teenage angst

Submitted Photo Gina Marie Bernard is a Bemidji High School teacher and author.

BEMIDJI — The picture on the front of Gina Marie Bernard’s new book tells the whole story; those young adult years when there seemed to be nothing else to do but scream.

Bernard is able to understand the angst of young adults because she’s has been there herself; she is able to get into the mindset of the young man who is a poor student but wishes above all else to leave a legacy behind for future students at Grace High, the fictional school in the fictional small town of Grace in northern Minnesota.

“Vent” is a compilation of short adult fiction previously published in a variety of magazines.  The stories take the reader back to the senior year of high school when decisions have to be made that will affect their future, whether they are ready to make the decisions, or face the consequences. The main character, Jacob (Jake) Bridgeman spends that last year of high school keeping his twin brother’s secret; the real reason for his suicide carefully hidden until a chance meeting with a total stranger helps him to purge his guilt. In the end, Jake will no longer be held hostage by the truth as he begins a new life as a frosh at the “U.”

The reader is left wanting more; let us all hope Bernard follows up with another book of young adult fiction, which is really a misnomer for it should be read by parents of teens as well. The author has gifted the reader with an insight into the young male psyche. The dialogue between the adolescents is heavily laced with the verbiage of today’s youth who do not flinch nor apologize for using language considered rude just a generation ago. And that is part of what makes these stories so real; for if you’ve ever overheard a conversation between young adults, you know they are most often times conducted to shock the listener.

“Vent” is self published through CreateSpace, a division of Amazon and is also available as a Kindle edition. Bernard realizes that the reading public is changing quickly, so the decision was made to publish hard copy as well a digital version. The cost of the book is consumer friendly and would fit nicely in a Christmas stocking.

Experiences impact writing

But back to the author: Greg Richard Bernard’s first young adult novel, “Alpha Summer,” was published by Loonfeather Press in 2005.

Bernard, who earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at Bemidji State University, was living life as a male with a wife and two daughters, when he realized that he had to make life-changing decisions that would require tremendous family and colleague support. The courage to undertake the psychological testing and medical treatments necessary to complete the transition from male to female was beyond measure.

Today, Gina Marie Bernard is recognized for the talented teacher she is by students in her Advanced Placement English and Literature classes and many upper level junior and senior English classes at Bemidji High School.

“In 2006 I was awarded a residency in creative writing and I started thinking about these stories,” Bernard said about the stories that would end up in “Vent.”

“I realized that these short stories were all about kids the same age and in the same geographic location, so I decided to re-write them a little bit and fit them into a larger narrative. As a transsexual woman, I connected with the local GLBT community and realized that over the years at the high school, there has been a lot of depression and kids being kicked out of their homes. I see a need for more open and frank discussions about GLBT issues in the publishing world.”

Although the groups of friends in “Vent” are not gay, Bernard is known for being an advocate for those youth caught in the maelstrom of adolescent confusion and guilt. She is the faculty advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance, a national student-led organization that welcomes gay students and their supportive straight friends. Bernard has a small cadre of students who make up the membership every year, currently between 12 to 15 students.  

“There are a number of students who feel welcome and safe and their friends are supportive and want to be there for them and build that bridge that works on their similarities as opposed to focusing on the differences,” Bernard said. “You don’t have to declare yourself as straight or gay, just an ally. We’ve done some pretty cool things like bringing in Jamie Novotny for the high school and the college who talked about being gay in the 1980s and how he was bullied and harassed so badly.”

The GSA has also worked closely with Servant Hearts, and last year, the group held a talent show at the high school for anyone who wanted to perform and the proceeds from ticket sales were donated to Evergreen House.

“In Bemidji, it’s always been sort of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but as a transsexual woman it is harder to hide that,” Bernard said. “Gay people are part of society and unless they are flamboyant, you wouldn’t know that. I am real proud of the gay couples and the transsexual people. We hope for the day that we can embrace the human race and forget about the differences. I think that fear and misinformation is based on ignorance, so anything we can do to erase that ignorance would be good.”  

IF YOU GO: What: Book signing for “Vent” by Gina Marie Bernard

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Book World, 316 Beltrami Ave. NW, downtown Bemidji.