I am so excited to be a part of the Sara Squared Blog Tour! Both of these books look fabulous and I am pumped to have signed copies to give away! Below you'll find a guest post from the authors about the parents in their books. And at the bottom, you'll find the rafflecopter for the signed book giveaway! Check out the full blog tour info here. Enjoy. :)
Title: Chatting About Parents in YA Novels
In 10 days on the (virtual) road for our books, Promise Me Something and This Is How I Find Her, we haven’t yet talked about one of the biggest subjects our books share: parents. In Promise Me Something, Reyna’s dad is recovering from an accident and Reyna is struggling to adjust to his new girlfriend, Lucy. In This Is How I Find Her, Sophie’s mom’s suicide attempt changes everything in Sophie’s life.
Sara Polsky: My main character, Sophie, has been taking care of her mother for several years already when the book opens. How does Reyna’s father’s accident change their relationship?
Sara Kocek: After the accident, Reyna’s dad is on crutches, with several broken bones and a neck brace. While he heals, he needs a lot of help to do basic things like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of himself. Reyna sometimes feels like she has to “babysit” him, which she resents because it prevents her from hanging out with her friends. At the same time, she would rather it be her than Lucy. Lucy--her dad’s girlfriend--is the one who was driving when they got into the accident, and Reyna can’t fathom why her dad still wants to be with someone who almost (accidentally) killed him. When I first wrote the book, Lucy was the classic “evil stepmother” figure, but as I revised the book it became important to me to make her more sympathetic. I think fiction is more interesting when all the characters have good intentions; they just don’t always agree on what’s best.
The adults in your book are fairly sympathetic too. Even Aunt Cynthia--who is somewhat of a cypher--ultimately shows a softer side toward the end of the book. I really admire how you have crafted them as real, three-dimensional characters, not just figureheads. How was writing the adult characters in your book different from writing the teenage characters?
Sara Polsky: I saw Sophie’s mom as a three-dimensional character, and knew what her relationship with Sophie would be like -- loving, but complicated by Sophie’s experience taking care of her -- from the beginning. But the other adult characters, Sophie’s aunt and uncle, were among the hardest characters to get to know, much more so than the teens. Initially, I thought of Aunt Cynthia and Uncle John from Sophie’s perspective, and her frustration with them for not helping her care for her mother seeped into every scene and made them flat and, like your early version of Lucy, not particularly sympathetic. They evolved in later drafts -- I gave Sophie a job in her uncle’s office, which allowed them some opportunities to talk about things other than Sophie’s mom, and I tried to highlight the ways Sophie and her aunt were alike, to give them some common ground. Sophie’s flashbacks and memories also show the adults in her family in a more positive light.
Aside from Reyna’s dad and Lucy, one of the other memorable adult characters in your novel is Olive’s mother, Mrs. Barton. I loved the scene where Reyna meets her for the first time and doesn’t quite realize what’s going on -- Olive has to spell out the fact that her mom drinks. How does her drinking affect Olive’s life?
Sara Kocek: Olive not only worries that something will happen to her mom--namely drunk driving or hurting herself at the house while drunk--she also feels responsible for trying to hide the alcohol so her mom can’t find it. In this way, she’s like Sophie--the child assuming the role of the parent. Except Olive is also incredibly embarrassed by the whole situation, and she takes it out on her mother in the form of anger and sarcasm. Olive is one of those people who feels more comfortable expressing anger than she does sadness, but I see a lot of sadness and pain underneath that anger.
In your novel, Sophie has good reason to be angry with the adults in her life, especially her own mother. But instead of being angry, she seems to understand that her mother’s behavior is because of the illness, and that the illness is separate from her as a person. That strikes me as very mature of her. Was Sophie’s character always like this, or did you have drafts where she directed more anger at her mother?
Sara Polsky: Sophie actually got angrier from draft to draft. At first, she was more resigned to her situation, but an early reader pointed out that as Sophie made new friends and encountered their families, she would start to realize just how unusual her own experience was and might become resentful about having been deprived of a “normal” relationship with her mom. I added some of those feelings in revisions.
Changing gears a bit, who are your favorite parents (or adults in general) in YA? Any who served as inspirations for the adult characters in Promise Me Something?
Sara Kocek: I love the parents in Rebecca Stead’s books When You Reach Me and Liar and Spy. Those are middle grade novels, not YA, but I think she’s done a fantastic job of giving them funny quirks while also keeping them realistic. These quirks--like the father who is obsessed with making new houses look old, or the mom who spells out notes using scrabble tiles--give them a young and playful vibe, nothing like the strict, authoritarian parents that I encountered in books when I was young. Along these lines, I tried to give Reyna’s Dad a playful side, like when he and Lucy eat ice cream for breakfast, straight from the carton. I wanted it to be clear that even though he’s the authority figure in the family, he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s figuring things out as he goes along, just like Reyna.
To wrap things up, do you have any advice for teens who have to take care of their parents? What about teens who feel misunderstood by the adults in their life?
Sara Polsky: I don’t have any easy answers -- I don’t think there are any, and This Is How I Find Her was an attempt to answer these questions for Sophie. But I would say, if you can, to ask for help, to try to find at least one adult who will be in your corner, help you, and advocate for you.
Thanks for following along on our blog tour, and thanks for reading!
Author: Sara Kocek
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co.
Enter the Giveaway here!!
Check out the next steps on the blog tour:Wednesday, September 4
Sara Polsky Guest Post
The Writing Barn
Sara Kocek Guest Post