Local author Mary L. Byrne has released her latest book, “Two Sides of the Mirror”, a unique look into race and redemption.
Byrne, in an interview on Monday, said she “never expected” her book to be published at such an appropriate time. “I wanted to convey that we’re more alike than we are different, and the only thing that divides us is our skin color.”
Two Sides of the Mirror tells the story of Gregory Hastings, the ultimate bigot. After spending most of his life looking down upon anyone who was not like himself, whether it is because of skin color, profession, financial standing, or education level, he rises to become the United State Attorney General. Then one day, the tables are turned. Greg experiences a total transformation; causing him to seek out all of the people he wronged to correct his past errors.
Byrne said inspiration for the novel came to her in the early hours of the morning. ”I woke up one morning at 5 a.m., wide-awake, and the title was right there. So I lay there for a while and all these ideas came to me. But I had to do a lot of research, because I didn’t know more than the average white woman,” Byrne said. “I knew it hurt, and I knew it was a painful experience, but I didn’t know just how much.”
It took Byrne four years to write her book. She worked alongside the NAACP, seeking their guidance and direction. “I wanted to be sure I wasn’t saying anything that was offensive, and I wanted to make sure that everybody was comfortable,” she said. “Here’s a white woman writing about racial issues.”
“When you start writing, you think you know exactly what you’re going to cover and how it’ll send, but you don’t have a clue,” she said, explaining that the ending of the book surprised her the most. “I’m very pleased, very surprised.”
Byrne hopes readers resonate with the main character. “I hope they can come to see if they’ve been the one who discriminates against others. I hope it makes people take another look, a deeper look.”
Byrne also drew inspiration from her own childhood. “I never had a chance to go to school with children of other races, I never had the opportunity to get to know them, learn about their traditions, nothing. I feel bad about that now,” she said. “When I was a child, I didn’t have friends who weren’t white, but I think more today, you find children from all countries, all races in schools.”
Byrne is encouraging a wide audience to read her book. “There’s no vulgarity, so anyone who can read should read this book. I think it will benefit children and adults, and it will be great for schools or large companies teaching racial diversity. It was very important to me that anyone could read it.”
Byrne’s two granddaughters, ages 11 and 13, are big fans of the book, “My youngest said it’s the best book, and she has to hurry up and finish it because her Spanish teacher wants to read it.”
Byrne’s biggest goal for Two Sides of the Mirror is to “get through to some people and open their eyes” while opening up a conversation. Byrne calls her book “ground zero” for understanding the impacts of racism.
“I would love to see a large group of people of many races sit down and have a conversation without any violence. They can talk about their hopes and dreams, families, what they do for a living. We all have the same body parts; we all have a heart and a soul. I know it wouldn’t solve all the problems, but it would bring us together.”
Byrne is also an active public speaker with Survivors Speak RI, an organization that generates awareness of the dynamics and trauma of sexual and domestic violence and promotes healing through speaking, education, and advocacy.
The organization works with the military, universities, medical professionals, judges, and “just about anyone that will listen to us,” said Byrne.
Byrne works with medical students, providing education on addiction. “I help them look beneath the addiction to see what’s really there. They have to understand treating old pain before taking away the substance.”
Byrne also spent over two years working with inmates in the sexual offenders unit at the Adult Correctional Institution.
This is Byrne’s second book. Her first, “Only Children Can Hear Me,” is a children’s book that focuses on race, disability, sickness and abuse, all told from the point of view of a pet dog. Stemming from her 21 years as a volunteer with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as her own battle with cancer, Byrne was inspired to make a difference.
“It’s amazing, the overwhelming, compelling feeling to make a difference,” she said. “There’s so many ways in this world that we can make a difference. I’m amazed when I speak to people that absolutely do not care at all about their fellow man. They don’t care about what’s going on in the world.”
Byrne encourages those who want to make a difference, to do just that. “If you have a dream, just follow it. If you help one person, you make a difference. I think a lot of us have made a difference, but we may never hear about it. And that’s okay. Just know in your heart you’ve made a difference.”