Children’s author Susanne Gervay, the 371st person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, feels deep empathy with the experiences and challenges faced by our youth.

Being a tween or teen can be hard, Susanne says. The typical child expends much energy trying to establish their identity and figure out their place in the world, while also taking care to remain in good standing with the herd. It can be deeply unsettling to have your heart tell you to move in one direction but allow the herd to pull you in another.

Susanne’s books help readers understand what they’re going through and see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. But Susanne doesn’t just give out the answers; rather, readers are empowered to find the answers for themselves.

Susanne, who comes from a Hungarian family, started writing as a very young child, as a way to process the trauma that her parents, who lived through World War 2 and the Holocaust, unconsciously passed down to her. She wrote her first children’s book when she was middle-aged, and was able to draw on her experience of being both a mother and a teacher.

As a successful author, Susanne is regularly invited to festivals and has been appointed as an Australia Day ambassador. But her life is far from glamorous. Writing a book is hard work; rejection is painful; and even very good authors struggle to make a living from writing.

It was such a pleasure to meet Susanne. The great thing about having lunch with an author is that you get to chat with someone who’s thought deeply about what it means to be human and can express her ideas clearly. So I learned a lot from our time together. Even better, as we were saying goodbye, Susanne announced that we were no longer strangers, but friends.