BATAVIA – After being a longtime teacher in Naperville, Batavia resident Julie Oleszek resigned to pen her first novel, “The Fifth Floor,” a fictionalized version of her formative years.
“The Fifth Floor,” which revolves around 7-year-old Anna growing up in 1970s suburban Chicago, was published in March and is available at her website at www.julieoleszek.com or at retailers such as Townhouse Books, 105 North 2nd Ave., St. Charles. Oleszek will be part of the “Catch a Bunch of Authors Fair” on Sept. 12 at the Santori Public Library, 101 S. River St., Aurora.
Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Oleszek about her novel.
Eric Schelkopf: I understand that “The Fifth Floor” is a fictionalized version of your youth from growing up in Woodridge.
Julie Oleszek: It is. It is a true-to-life story, but it’s fiction because it’s very embellished. And even though it’s written in the 1970s, I made it very relevant to today.
Schelkopf: What drove you to want to write this novel?
Oleszek: I originally wanted to write the book because I had suffered a childhood trauma that went undetected for many years. Basically, I felt like life was hopeless.
Anna’s story is very similar, but like I said, very embellished. She goes through a childhood trauma that many kids experience. It goes undetected, and because of that, it has repercussions.
Anna stops eating at the age of 17. Finally, her mother steps in to try to help her and basically save her life.
Schelkopf: So, you had an eating disorder?
Oleszek: I did not. When you are reading the book on a surface level, it does look like that Anna has an eating disorder.
But as the reader begins to get deeper into the book, they realize that it is not that at all.
It’s actually not about an eating disorder at all. It’s about this childhood trauma. With no one to talk to, she suffers internally by herself.
Schelkopf: So, you also had a childhood trauma?
Oleszek: Yes. There was a death in my family, and that was the childhood trauma. Personally, I had perceived that trauma as more than it was, more of my fault than it was, and this person dying.
Schelkopf: In writing this book, did you feel like you wanted to present this story and show that people shouldn’t be ashamed of any trauma that they might have?
Oleszek: Yes. I think that “The Fifth Floor” is an important story because it deals with mental health issues. Unfortunately, there is such a stigma attached to mental health issues.
Schelkopf: Do you think that your novel might help people share their problems with other people? Is that your ultimate goal?
Oleszek: My hope is that readers from all walks of life are presented with a better understanding of childhood trauma and the lasting effect it has.
Schelkopf: Was it an easy process in sitting down to write the book?
Oleszek: As I was writing the novel, there were many times where I was crying with the characters and laughing with the characters. When I first started writing the book, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put it out there because of the stigma.
But I really felt that the book grew and it changed me. I started saying to myself, ‘So what that I went through this childhood trauma? It’s OK to experience different things.’
Schelkopf: You grew up in a large family, similar to Anna’s character in “The Fifth Floor.”
Oleszek: I did. I grew up the ninth child of 10, and in the novel, Anna is the ninth of 10 children as well.
I may have come from a large family with a lot of commotion and busy schedules, but that’s also what families have today. They could have one child, but they are all over the place. And things do get overlooked. Being a teacher of 20 years, I’ve seen that happen over and over again.