Gene Twaronite's stories have been published by Avatar Review, Fast Forward Press, Highlights for Children, Kids'Magination, Mouse Tales Press, Read (Weekly Reader), and The Write Room as well as in a book anthology by Heinemann (In Short: How to Teach the Young Adult Story, Edited by Suzanne I. Barchers, 2005). He is also the author of the middle grade novel The Family That Wasn't - the prequel to My Vacation in Hell.
"Before writing his novel," says the author, "I spent time researching Dante’s work as well as to other depictions of hell as described by various religions. I also read some of the literature dealing with sexual abuse and treatment. In my novel, I have tried to incorporate the three main symptoms or stages that a sexual abuse victim displays: disassociation, denial and repression of memories. Because it is sometimes necessary for a victim to confront the abuser, I decided to have John face his Uncle Vinnie in hell. And I especially wanted to have John’s gradual healing follow the general goals of sexual abuse treatment – of “finding the inner child” or the inner spirit that was damaged, of finding a place where one is whole and safe again."
"Having exposed my character John to sexual abuse in my earlier novel, I felt that I couldn't just leave him hanging there without trying to help him resolve his issues. I tried to imagine as best I could part of the horror experienced by a sexual abuse victim and how he might deal with it. It is my hope that in some small way my novel helps to address the needs of all who seek to find their own way out of hell."
My Vacation in Hell is a humorous young adult fantasy, written in first person narrative by a 15-year-old writer named John Boggle. The time period is the mid-1960’s. A troubled nerdy misfit and a frequent flyer of his imagination, John is inspired by a book report reading of Dante Alighieri’s the Inferno. In the eternity of the five minutes before summer vacation, he embarks on a pilgrimage based upon his own free-wheeling interpretation of the work.
Following Dante's lead, John populates his hell with all the people who have wronged him over the years, inventing deliciously cruel punishments for each of them in his teenage version of cosmic retribution. Aided by his best friend Virgil, a trusty guide in this shared imagination, John also struggles to come to terms with the world’s many evils. And as he descends further into this realm, he constructs his own hierarchy of evildoers, assigning them to the levels he believes they deserve.
But it is the evil perpetrated upon John, a victim of sexual abuse, which poses the most difficult challenge for him. The deeper he goes, the more he encounters obstacles, some of whom in the guise of colorful demon characters try their best to keep him there. But the worst obstacle of all is his own self-image, forged out of guilt and shame. He will not leave this hell of his own making, Virgil tells him, until he learns how to deal with the evil done to him and finds the true center of his being.
Fortunately, he has other help besides the ever wise Virgil, who it turns out has a few problems of his own to deal with. John needs more than reason to get him through this, and divinely beautiful aid arrives in the form of Beth, an idealized version of his secret love. Rescuing the pair from the evil that threatens to consume them, she will guide John in the last stage of his spiritual odyssey. She shows him that there are even some good places in Hell, just as there is always some good, however slight, that comes from our worst experiences. Though of necessity a darkly disturbing tale, My Vacation in Hell delivers an essential message as affirmative as the dawn.