Alum, faculty Wyman revisits childhood trauma to triumph with “Jawbreaker”

November 7, 2023

College of Education fixed-term faculty member and alum Christina Wyman turned childhood trauma into an inspiring children’s novel with her new book, “Jawbreaker.” The book’s main character, Maximillia or “Max,” is an imaginative 12-year-old middle school student who happens to be a gifted writer, but faces chronic bullying, a facial abnormality and rough home life.

The front cover of Jawbreaker featuring an illustration of a young girl with curly read hair and braces.
The front cover of Jawbreaker. Artwork courtesy of James Lancett.

When a school journalism competition is declared, Max faces a dilemma: She must decide whether to pursue her dreams or bow out from submitting the necessary video essay due to concerns about facing additional bullying – namely from her own sister. Through this deeply challenging time, Max discovers inner resilience and emerges successfully from the ordeal.

“’Jawbreaker’ represents the types of books I wish I had access to as a child,” said Wyman. “Growing up, there weren’t books in my class that dealt deeply with socioeconomic issues, life-altering bullying and damaging family dynamics.”

Wyman was born with a severe overbite, which eventually required double-jaw surgery. Aside from the physical discomfort caused by the medical condition, the Class II malocclusion made Wyman the source of frequent bullying from peers during her middle school years in Brooklyn, New York – much like the book’s main character.

A headshot of College of Education fixed-term faculty member and alum Christina Wyman.
College of Education fixed-term faculty member and alum Christina Wyman.

“I know what it’s like to be in a school with bullies,” recalled Wyman. “By today’s standards, some of the things I endured would probably be considered illegal.”

Finding Home

After leaving New York, Wyman taught middle school students in New Jersey before embarking on her Spartan journey in the college’s Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education (CITE) doctoral program. Upon arrival, she knew East Lansing felt like home.

“I packed everything I owned into my car and moved into Owen Hall,” she said. “When I pulled in, a group of undergraduate students helped me move everything in! That’s when I knew this was the place. They took time out of their day to help me after I’d driven across the country. I was beyond grateful. In many ways, they became my first group of friends at MSU.”

Wyman’s dissertation, which examined how white English teachers navigate the topic of race in their classroom, received the Distinguished Dissertation Award from the Association of Teacher Educators. She is now a fixed-term faculty member with the college’s Department of Teacher Education – a role which she has held since 2019.

As her career in academia continues to flourish, her achievements are not limited to her role in the department.

“Jawbreaker,” published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, has secured a spot on the American Booksellers Association’s Indies Introduce Titles Top 10 List, and was also selected for the November/December 2023 Kids’ Indie Next List. “Jawbreaker” is also a Readerlink’s Buzz Reads pick for October 2023. It will be available for sale in Walmart and Meijer stores, and was also chosen as a November Middle Grade Reader Book Club pick by Target stores.

The book can also be purchased online wherever books are sold, including through local independent bookstores.