The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian was released on February 15, 2022.
Beth Kramer is a “townie” who returns to her sophomore year after having endured a year of tension with her roommate, Sarah.
But Sarah Brunson knows there’s more to that story.
Amanda Priya “Spence” Spencer is the privileged daughter of NYC elites, who is reeling from the realization that her family name shielded her from the same fate as Sarah.
Ramin Golafshar arrives at Chandler as a transfer student to escape the dangers of being gay in Iran, only to suffer brutal hazing under the guise of tradition in the boys’ dorms.
And Freddy Bello is the senior who’s no longer sure of his future but knows he has to stand up to his friends after what happened to Ramin.
At Chandler, the elite boarding school, these five teens are brought together in the Circle, a coveted writing group where life-changing friendships are born—and secrets are revealed. Their professor tells them to write their truths. But is the truth enough to change the long-standing culture of abuse at Chandler? And can their friendship survive the fallout?
By Cornelius Minor and Nawal Q. Casiano
One of the things that we love the most about this moment in kidlit is that authors from historically marginalized groups are showing readers, librarians, teachers, and the world that we are here.
We are here. And that is exactly what Abdi Nazemian’s latest book The Chandler Legacies does. It tells the story of five individuals who attend a wealthy boarding school and build a connection through a tight-knit writing group. They eventually reject silence. They are unlikely allies.
For queer folks, for immigrants, for poor folks; “here” is anywhere our ambition can carry us, anywhere our desire wills us to be. Prestigious jobs. Elite schools. Exclusive clubs. Anywhere.
Unfortunately, the challenge associated with existing fully in spaces that were not built for us is that we are often forced to exist alone, and that sometimes we are forced to exist in the crosshairs of institutional harm and oft-buried abuse. Adults from marginalized groups have experienced this for generations.
The tragedy of the 21st century is that as they inherit our places in schools and other institutions, children experience this too. And because we rarely ever talk about it, they are forced to experience this alone. Even when adults themselves know or have experienced trauma themselves, they don’t always speak up. Everyone wants to belong.
But Abdi’s The Chandler Legacies is the discussion about where we belong and how we exist there that far too many never got to have.
The writing group starts out as a place where these young people write about themselves. As they reflect on their experiences and their feelings, this writing group turns into a place where they become themselves—despite all of the ways that the boarding school experience attempts to murder their personhood.
For those of us who had to struggle our way into these spaces, and for those of us who had to fight our way out of institutions like this, we often had to do so with no tools or road map. There was no guiding legacy. Abdi’s book is that legacy.
The book is about the act of writing itself. It’s a sort of meta-analysis of writing and the understanding of who we are. Storytelling and the power of the pen made their identities permanent. Writing and creativity is a way out of feeling confused. Perspective is gained by storytelling in different ways, hearing different voices. And young people are looking for that guide.
“How I process things is through writing,” Abdi said. “And I made it the same for these kids. Only through the act of writing were they able to understand themselves. These characters are trying to piece together who they are.”
There were parts of this book that were incredibly painful and young people are facing parts of their lives right now that are equally painful. There are bullying and hazing scenes, which are milder versions of Abdi’s personal experience. There are violations of students by teachers. There are buried fears. And there is perpetual silencing. As part of the research and inspiration for this project, he immersed himself in his own home videos, which was a rich and “evocative” time—and he needed that “artistic empathy” for the storytelling in this book, too. He remembers not having the power or authority to take on a system that didn’t keep everyone safe; this book offers young people the power he couldn’t offer himself then.
Abdi, who wrote the Stonewall Honor-winning 2019 book Like a Love Story, left Tehran when he was two years old and lived in Paris, Toronto, and New York City before moving to Los Angeles after college. He is a big believer in the almost spiritual act of writing, one that cathartically allows for discovery of the self. In Iranian culture, as with many others, we don’t readily talk about our issues and the difficulties we face. Abdi and Nawal know this firsthand. But silence does us no good.
“We are trained not to talk about pain because of our culture,” he told us. “But I am a big believer of responsible storytelling. The details are mine.”
That spiritual connection to the art becomes clear between the characters, as in the story, the art of creating together is the act of magic. There is catharsis in coming together, holding hands to speak up, and a realization that cycles of abuse can only happen when the collective decides it can’t continue.
“Culturally we can’t cope with hard things without storytelling that brings us into the hearts of people,” Abdi said, “instead of remaining statistical. It is my hope that the story leads people to important debates.”
Abdi Nazemian spent his childhood in a series of exciting locations (Tehran, Paris, Toronto, New York), but could usually be found in his bedroom watching old movies and reading. Abdi has written for two television shows: Fox’s ALMOST FAMILY, and NBC’s THE VILLAGE. He has written five produced films: THE ARTIST’S WIFE (Strand Releasing, 2020) MENENDEZ: BLOOD BROTHERS (Lifetime, 2017), THE QUIET (Sony Pictures Classics, 2006), CELESTE IN THE CITY (ABC Family, 2004), and BEAUTIFUL GIRL (ABC FAMILY, 2003). He also wrote, directed and produced the short film REVOLUTION (2012). He is proud to say that his words have been spoken by the likes of Carmela Soprano, The Nanny, and The Girl With The Most Cake.
Abdi’s first novel, THE WALK-IN CLOSET, was awarded Best Debut at the Lambda Literary Awards. He has written two young adult novels, both published by Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins: THE AUTHENTICS (2017) and LIKE A LOVE STORY (2019), an Indie Next Pick, Junior Library Guild Selection, Stonewall Honor book, and a best book of the year from EW, Audible, Buzzfeed, YALSA, NYPL and more.
As Head of Development for Water’s End Productions, Abdi has been an executive producer or associate producer on numerous films, including CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, IT HAPPENED IN L.A., THE PRICE, THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW, and LITTLE WOODS. Abdi lives in Los Angeles with his two children and husband, and holds dual citizenship between the United States and Canada. Abdi is not the inspiration for Madonna’s children’s book “The Adventures of Abdi,” though he will forever insist that he is.
Nawal wakes each morning to a cup of strong coffee and a head full of stronger ideas. One time zone away, Cornelius does the same thing, but with tea. Over the years, the two of them met through these ideas , and they soon learned to grow many others. Together. As book people, parents and educators, they believe in the power of storytelling as a way to connect our imperfect past to the infinite potential of our future. For families. For children. And for the world.
They are both educators who work in many capacities, but the capacity that energizes them the most is that they share and discuss stories with young people. There is power in this. Especially when it is done with an intentional focus on diversity. They believe that seeking words and experiences that are different from our own help us be more human.