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Monday, March 12, 2018

'Here's Looking at You' by Mhairi McFarlane

From the BLURB:

Anna Alessi – history expert, possessor of a lot of hair and an occasionally filthy mouth – seeks nice man for intelligent conversation and Mills & Boon moments.

 Despite the oddballs that keep turning up on her dates, Anna couldn't be happier. As a 30-something with a job she loves, life has turned out better than she dared dream.

However, things weren't always this way, and her years spent as the ‘Italian Galleon' of an East London comprehensive are ones she'd rather forget.

So when James Fraser – the architect of Anna's final humiliation at school – walks back into her life, her world is turned upside down. But James seems a changed man. Polite. Mature. Funny, even. People can change, right? So why does Anna feel like she's a fool to trust him?

Hilarious and poignant, ‘Here's Looking At You' will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. The new must-read novel from #1 bestseller Mhairi McFarlane.

‘Here’s Looking at You’ was Mhairi McFarlane’s 2013 romance novel – now having read, I have thus completed my pillaging of her backlist … and am now sitting with the rest of the bandwagon, waiting for information on her little-known planned February 2019 release. *le sigh*

So I didn’t LOVE my last Mhairi read, before this one, as much as I’d hoped to – ‘Who’s That Girl’ certainly didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth (um. It’s Mhairi McFarlane, I think it’s impossible for her to write a bad book?) but truth be told, the blurb of ‘Here’s Looking At You’ is more up my alley… it reminded me a little of the 2010 Kristen Bell movie ‘You Again’ which is about a woman who was tormented in high school, discovering as an adult that her brother is about to marry her teen tormentor.

‘Here’s Looking At You’ is told in duel-perspectives (the only Mhairi novel to use this device!) – there’s Anna, who was regularly humiliated and bullied physically and emotionally throughout high school. She’s a grown woman now, with friends she adores and a job she loves – she’s even done a complete physical overhaul, and is deemed ‘beautiful’ by many, even if her newfound body hasn’t bought much more confidence or companionship.

James wasn’t Anna’s frequent tormentor, but he was her high school’s golden boy and someone she privately pined for … until he partook in an awful public humiliation that scarred her for life. Nowadays James is a separated comms & marketing man, still with the handsome swagger, but somewhat dented these days since his beautiful wife of one year, Eva, left him for inexplicable reasons.

James and Anna first cross paths at a high school reunion – where James fails to recognise her, and Anna thinks she has expelled her demons. Then they cross paths again when they’re thrown together for a project at Anna’s work, and while Anna still keeps her identity a secret, she tries expelling some of those demon-memories still lurking, by making James’s work life hell.

Clearly I am a masochist, because I loved this Mhairi book – and honestly think it’s up there with my fave ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ – and possibly because I think the stakes are higher in both those books. ‘It’s Not Me’ has the female protagonist learning that her boyfriend is cheating on her, the night he becomes her fiancée. Similarly, the idea of being thrown together with someone who made your teenage years a waking nightmare is pretty darn high stakes in ‘Here’s Looking At You’ – and kudos to Mhairi, she never once pulls punches or mitigates circumstances.

Anna was bullied and harassed, and it has left psychological scarring. James was an awful person growing up (and seemingly for some of his adult life) and so much of the book is dedicated to him figuring out the kind of person he wants to be, going forward. And it is really wonderful that their romance is a slow-burn that grows from friendship, not physical attraction.

I will admit, it could have been wonderful if Anna hadn’t had a ‘She’s All That’ transformation to hotness – obviously a significant portion of the book is about James not putting two and two together and recognising Anna as the “freak” from high school … but since they were forced together for work, I could imagine an alternative take where she is still that awkward girl, and he doesn’t get given the luxury of wondering if he still would have fallen for her had she not undergone physical transformation. Honestly, at this point, if I have any qualms about Mhairi books it’s that she does tend towards “beautiful people” romance archetypes, and that particular trope of “beautiful people who don’t know that they’re beautiful”. And if any story of hers could have broken that trope for the better, it was this one.

Barring all that – I still loved this book. I loved the duel-narratives, and the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ spin it took (particularly the use of James’s awful school friend as a stand-in for Mr. Wickham) I loved that Anna was a good person who didn’t have to change who she was, but James was the one who had a lot of work and personal overhauling to do to deserve her and be proud of himself.

I read this one in a night, and now I am utterly bereft that I won’t have another Mhairi to dive into. But I am also feeling incredibly full from my gorging on her books and becoming part of the fan-club. My membership was long overdue, so thank you to everyone who constantly recommended her to me!


Friday, March 9, 2018

'Who’s That Girl?' by Mhairi McFarlane

From the BLURB:

When Edie is caught in a compromising position at her colleagues' wedding, all the blame falls on her – turns out that personal popularity in the office is not that different from your schooldays. Shamed online and ostracised by everyone she knows, Edie's forced to take an extended sabbatical – ghostwriting an autobiography for hot new acting talent, Elliot Owen. Easy, right?

Wrong. Banished back to her home town of Nottingham, Edie is not only dealing with a man who probably hasn't heard the word ‘no' in a decade, but also suffering an excruciating regression to her teenage years as she moves back in with her widowed father and judgy, layabout sister.

When the world is asking who you are, it's hard not to question yourself. Who's that girl? Edie is ready to find out.

‘Who’s That Girl?’ was the 2016 rom-com novel from UK author, Mhairi McFarlane.

Okay – well – I broke my own damn rules with this one. I’d been so happily ploughing through Mhairi McFarlane’s entire backlist, working on the assumption that she had a new book coming out this year and it didn’t really matter if I got through all her books, if a new one was on the way. Then – according to Goodreads – the release date of her next book has apparently shifted to 2019. Egads! Suddenly the realisation dawned that once I got through ‘Who’s That Girl?’ and ‘Here's Looking at You’ – I’d have nothing left. I needed to start rationing my reading … well, that lasted a week.

And maybe it’s because I forced myself to slow down *ever so slightly* with this one, but it is so far my least favourite Mhairi book (and further confirmation for me that I don’t think ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ will be knocked from my top spot?). It may be the one that promises to be a modern ‘Notting Hill’ with an ordinary woman falling for a rising film and TV star, but I found it to be the most drawn-out and at times, a little bit clunky and cumbersome.

So – as with so many Mhairi stories, this book’s premise and the downward-trajectory arc of the protagonist begins with cheating. When copywriter Edie is spotted getting snogged by the groom at his own wedding, it release a maelstrom of online hatred and office abuse – forcing her boss to send her back home to the wilds of Nottingham to ghost-write the autobiography of ‘Game of Thrones’ knock-off heartthrob, Elliot Ownes.

But what starts as hostility eventually turns to curiosity, sympathy and then genuine affection between the two of them. And then the complications really kick in.

Right, so – first of all – a lot of stuff happens in this book, and I was a bit surprised to discover that the first considerable chunk of set-up takes up nearly 100 pages, dealing entirely in Edie’s scarlet-woman accusations at the wedding. It takes nearly 100 pages for Edie and Elliott to even meet, which … is a long time, in a romance. Or am I nuts? I mean; it probably took that long for Delia to meet Adam too. But it was still sort of frustrating that the set-up in ‘Who’s That Girl?’ works to establish that Edie did not want to be kissed by her co-worker Jack, at his wedding to her other co-worker, Charlotte – frustrating because I think the rest of the book injected that first-half set-up a little clunkily into the falling-for-a-celebrity second-half that the book became?

I think Mhairi is a wonderful romance author who raises really great points about the grey-areas of love, and she will often add layers of complication so cheating is never straight-up, black and white and there are always two sides to a story … in this book though, I think I wished Jack had gotten to be more of a character to really create push-pull for Edie, but as it is – it’s established that they had an office flirtation (“work wife” is never uttered, but probably noxiously appropriate) then the wedding debacle happens and he’s cut adrift and repeatedly written as an absolute wanker. So I think I slightly missed the nuance and subversive tropes that Mhairi so often plays around with flipping in her works, because Jack is never a contender for anything but antagonist?

As to Elliot Owen, the proper romantic interest of the story … look, yeah – lovely. He’s an actor off the back of a popular Game of Thrones-esque TV show in which he played a loincloth-clad prince. Apparently there’s much fan discussion in the books community as to whether he’s more a Kit Harrington or a Richard Madden, though I think his storyline and breakout popularity sounds more like the Jason Momoa trajectory (even though Elliot is physically described as being closer to Harrington and Madden) … but, honestly, envisioning Michiel Huisman worked better for my imagination. Overall though, Elliot was just a bit blandly lovely for me. There’s even something added to his background to try and make him more complicated and multi-faceted, but again – this was given so little treatment that it didn’t dig deep enough to matter.

I really liked the establishment of secondary characters in this – Edie’s friends Hannah and Nick, her sister Meg and father (and a tragedy in her family’s past was a sharp, bitter exploration well done) … but again; these characters felt like they fell by the wayside. Her depressive friend Nick, in particular, I was hoping to get a fuller back-story and maybe some sort of resolution? There’s also an older neighbour that Edie befriends who I thought would add another dimension to the plot – but that also went nowhere, and fell away too easily.

I will also say that something else I love about Mhairi’s books is how self-fulfilled her female characters are, and how much of a focus is on their personal and professional happiness. Often, in fact, they need to find meaning in their work life to have happiness in their romantic one – and that’s so true of life, and something I commend in all her books. But in ‘Who’s That Girl?’ I struggled to see why Edie liked her job so much … given that her being bullied is so poignantly portrayed, and this job ghost-writing Elliot’s memoir is a spur-of-the-moment, not-her-usual gig. I didn’t really know why Edie liked her job, basically. Which is a problem, when it becomes a big part of how the ending pans out.

Speaking of – THAT ENDING! I literally could have screamed “that’s it?!??” when I saw those last words. I think – in harking back to the ‘Notting Hill’ comparison – I was waiting for my big Horse and Hound bit, and a culmination in a similarly big declaration scene – like that of the press conference in that film too. Basically – I was waiting for a more movie romance ending with a bang, but I guess what Mhairi had been trying to establish was that Edie and Elliot’s romance is grounded in reality (because at the end of the day, he is just a normal bloke) and there’s an appropriately quiet ending to reflect that. So yeah, bit of a fizzer for me.

Also –one of my favourite scenes to make me blubber in ‘Notting Hill’ is that final image of Hugh Grant and a pregnant Julia Roberts on the park bench ("To June who Loved this garden ... from Joseph, who always sat beside her") and I just love the domesticity of that moment, *even* as she’s still a big film star, they’ve clearly made it work. And I guess with ‘Who’s That Girl?’ I would have appreciated a few moments exploring that domesticity. What’s it actually like, dating a film star? How do you cope? Do bizarre things just become the new normal? Yeah. I think I’d been hoping that this book took that momentary fave scene from ‘Notting Hill’ and based the story around that image a bit more. More fool me for presuming where the story would go, but there you go.  

Overall – I did like this book, but I didn’t LOVE and ADORE it like I am the others of hers, so far. I still wanted to rush to the end, I laughed and swooned … but maybe not quite as hard as previously.


Monday, March 5, 2018

'You Had Me At Hello' by Mhairi McFarlane


From the BLURB:

What happens when the one that got away comes back? Find out in this sparkling comedy from #1 bestseller, Mhairi McFarlane.

‘Think of the great duos of history. We're just like them.'
‘You mean like Kylie and Jason? Torvill and Dean? Sonny and Cher?'
‘I think you've missed the point, Rachel.'
Rachel and Ben. Ben and Rachel. It was them against the world. Until it all fell apart. It's been a decade since they last spoke, but when Rachel bumps into Ben one rainy day, the years melt away.

They'd been partners in crime and the best of friends. But life has moved on: Ben is married. Rachel is not. Yet in that split second, Rachel feels the old friendship return. And along with it, the broken heart she's never been able to mend.

Hilarious, heartbreaking and everything in between, you'll be hooked from their first ‘hello'.

‘You Had Me At Hello’ was romance author Mhairi McFarlane’s debut novel from 2012. In 2017, McFarlane also wrote an 89-page short story sequel called ‘After Hello’ – which I’ve also rolled into this review …

Okay. So. Clearly I have drunk at the fountain of obsession and am deep-diving into Mhairi McFarlane’s backlist with utmost glee. And everyone I know who originally recommended McFarlane to me, have said that they only love her books in varying increments of A RIDICULOUS AMOUNT – some instil slightly more swoony obsession, but they all get top-marks and it’s only infinitesimal degrees of preference.

Surely not! – I thought – how can someone slam-dunk so consistently? But I’ve just got through my second 24-hour read and so far, McFarlane is two for two. But – I still have slightly more of a preference for my first book of hers I read ‘It’sNot Me, It’s You’ (which – I wonder if it’s like always preferring the Doctor who first introduced you to the series? So it’s always going to be Tennant’s Tenth Doctor for me, regardless how good the newbie’s might be?)

So – ‘You Had Me At Hello’ is about 30-something Rachel who has just broken off her 13-year relationship (and engagement) with Rhys after realising she was settling for “good enough” but the love was depleted. Rachel is getting on with life ‘back on the shelf’ and concentrating on her life as a court-reporter – when her friend Caroline announces that she’s seen ‘English Ben’ from their university days at the local library. This sends Rachel into a tailspin – as ten years ago, Ben was her love that got away … and she’s never got over him.

Against the better judgements of her heart, Rachel orchestrates a ‘bumping into’ Ben that rolls the years back and keeps her on a ‘Sliding Doors’ hamster-wheel of “what if?” thoughts. It gets worse when Ben says he and his wife have moved to Manchester permanently, and the two of them ingratiate Rachel into their group of friends.

This is more of the good stuff from McFarlane, who I am really appreciating as a writer of these sorts of ‘Macbeth’ years of early-30’s for women. Her two protagonists I’ve read so far have had to make big decisions to totally upheave their lives in their 30’s – the point at which they thought everything was settled and they were on the right track to their bright futures (until a spanner is put in their works and they realise they might want to get off these tracks before there’s a crash). It reminds me of my favourite line from Macbeth; "I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er.” Maybe that’s a touch too melodramatic, but it’s the only metaphor I can think of that perfectly captures this “what the F am I doing with my life??!?” moment that I – as a 30-year-old myself – can so utterly relate to and that McFarlane so beautifully winds her words around.

‘You Had Me At Hello’ is this really lovely Jonbar hinge (fancy way of saying ‘Sliding Doors’) romance wherein Rachel is suddenly forced – ten years later – to really examine the “what if?” of following her heart. Some parts of this book strongly reminded me of Australian YA author Laura Buzo’s ‘Holier Than Thou’ from 2012, which is also a book about a school romance-that-never-was niggling at a protagonist and forcing her to examine her life’s decisions (is this also a good time to ask – where’s my new Laura Buzo book already?! I love her, I want new stuff!). But while I had wished at the time that ‘Holier Than Thou’ had been more romantic-upbeat, I was relieved that McFarlane delivered on that aspect.

However. This book – more than ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ – had me worried for our girl heroine and the happily-ever-after romance. I do appreciate that McFarlane keeps her romance readers guessing in a genre that really (should) have foregone conclusions. But in ‘You Had Me At Hello’ I was so worried that protagonist Rachel was going to be stuck between a rock (douchey potential alternate love-interest) and a hard place (married man, true love). And I can’t say I was in as happy a reading place as I was in ‘It’s Not Me’ because I truly was so worried how all this would end …

And on that note – I did say that the best romances, much like fine meals, should leave you hungry for one more mouthful (even if it is just of mushy, syrupy happily-ever-after stuff!). But with ‘You Had Me At Hello’ I’ve gotta say, I was a little worried at where we ended up. I can only thank the reading Gods that I came to this book in 2018, and had the follow-up short-story that was released to dive into straight after – which did answer some of my leftover niggling questions about where we left these characters. In that sense, I don’t think I was quite as … content, with the ending as I wanted to be?

That being said – maybe it’s also because I can still see this particular world that McFarlane has created being opened up yet again? I could 100% see a sequel being written that revisits these characters in yet another stage of their lives?

Because it wasn’t just that Rachel and her romance was so fascinating – but the secondary characters around her too were divine. Best friends Caroline, Mindy and Ivor had interesting storylines themselves and ones I wouldn’t mind following further. Though I will say two more secondary characters – Ben’s wife Olivia and colleague Simon – were less successful for me. They tended toward cliché, whereas I so loved that in ‘It’s Not Me’, nobody played to type and made the story more interesting for it.

Overall – I laughed, I cried, I swooned … I gulped this down in one late-night and early-morning binge and now I’m moving on to yet another of her backlist. I may not have loved this one as much as my first Mhairi McFarlane (but as I said, I think I’ll always have the softest of spots for that introductory first) but I can definitely see how fans of hers find it hard to rank their love and appreciation when it comes down to varying degrees of “VERY MUCH MORE THIS!”


Monday, February 26, 2018

'It’s Not Me, It’s You' by Mhairi McFarlane

From the BLURB:

Delia Moss isn't quite sure where she went wrong.

When she proposed and discovered her boyfriend was sleeping with someone else – she thought it was her fault.

When she realised life would never be the same again – she thought it was her fault.

And when he wanted her back like nothing had changed – Delia started to wonder if perhaps she was not to blame…

From Newcastle to London and back again, with dodgy jobs, eccentric bosses and annoyingly handsome journalists thrown in, Delia must find out where her old self went – and if she can ever get her back.

‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ was the 2015 stand-alone romance novel from Scottish author, Mhairi McFarlane.

Okay – full disclosure – I’m a twit. I had no less than three friends whose reading tastes are very similar to my own, and whose opinion I highly regard telling me that Mhairi McFarlane is one of their favourite romance authors. I half-heartedly took their recs onboard, by buying three Mhairi books … and then didn’t read them. For about a year. And a half. Now I’m out the other side of one of the most enjoyable reading experiences of my life, and I’m fluctuating between beating myself up and just nosediving into her backlist!

‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ presents us with Northen lass Delia Moss – and then proceeds to get her as downtrodden as possible when she discovers her boyfriend of ten-years (who has just become her fiancée) has been cheating on her. Delia’s life spins out of control upon this revelation – she quits her job, perhaps gets herself a virtual-stalker and accepts an invitation to go and live with her best friend in her London apartment while she sorts herself out.

What follows is Delia getting gainful employment with a rotten PR-agency, rediscovering her love of comic-creating, befriending someone over email and getting blackmailed into being a whistleblower … all while the relationship she left back in Newcastle remains with a giant question-mark over her future.

I love, love, loved this book – not least because nobody in it played to clichés. From the ‘other woman’ to the initially antagonistic new love interest, and even the rat-bag cheating boyfriend, and Delia herself … nobody plays to type (or, the archetype of romance fiction) but everyone is thoroughly believable, imperfect, and wonderful.

All these against-type characters also meant that the book kept me in utter suspense throughout – and the last 20 or so pages were a heart-palpitating emotional thrill-ride that had me bouncing between elation that a romance-book kept me guessing so marvellously, and pleading with Mhairi McFarlane to indeed fulfil the romance-genre promises.

Some storylines didn’t *quite* get the service I’d hoped for … like Delia’s virtual-stalker turned friend (whose storyline I half-anticipated was gearing up for a somewhat similar turn to Rainbow Rowell’s debut romance ‘Attachments’) but this was partly because of the aforementioned avoidance of clichés, where expectations could be set up but then pivoted and improved.

The book was also terribly funny. I snort-laughed as much as I swooned – and I swooned pretty darn hard.

'I wasn't trying that hard with men before Paul, though. I usually had the upper hand.' Delia swiped her travel-greasy fringe out of her eyes. 'Am I allowed to say I was quite a bit in demand, now it's so long ago?'
'You completely were,' Emma said. 'I remember in the union bar when you wore your hair in those buns which had all the boys sighing. You were one of those manic pixie dream girls. Without being a twat with a ukulele.'  

I think the best romance books are probably the ones that leave you half-desperate that the author had written an extra fifty, superfluous pages of just pure, giddy happily-ever-afterness … but much like a good meal leaving you salivating for one more mouthful, ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ was a satisfactory craving and now I’m just chuffed that I have her backlist to fall into.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Interview with A.S. King - author of 'Please Ignote Vera Dietz'


Hello Darling Readers,

So, last year all my reader dreams came true because I got to meet one of my book idols - A.S. King. She is the author of everything I love, and she came to Australia for the Reading Matters Conference last year, to become living PROOF that you should definitely meet your idols.  
I am thrilled that Text Publishing is this month releasing King's Printz-Honor book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz - and gifting her words to a broader Australian audience.  
I was even more thrilled when Text asked me if I'd like to interview Amy (again!) 
So here she is. An author I most admire, letting me pick her brain.  
Link to the Text website feature (which also includes King's writing process and an extract from the book!) is here:

I work in youth literature. It’s pretty much my whole life. I write, advocate, edit, review, and even sell it as a literary agent.

I have bountiful thankfulness for the books I read growing up that ensured I’d always live for this readership, plus a deep respect and fascination with modern young-adult (YA) literature. 

But if you ask me who the one author is that’s writing YA today, who I wish with every fibre of my being had existed when I was a teen, I have only one answer. 

A. S. King.

Her books are not easy. Her books are not ‘nice’. But I know that she is one of the most important voices writing in YA fiction today for the very reason that she’s constantly testing boundaries and pushing readers out of comfort zones. 

Because A. S. King writes without limit. And I could have done with some of that, when I was growing up. 

Last year I had the thrill of my life getting to meet this author whom I have idolised since first reading her way back in 2011. I got to witness the impact and affect she had on teenagers when she joined the Centre for Youth Literature’s Reading Matters Conference line-up. The way A. S. King spoke to auditoriums full of teens – with steely-eyed honesty and deep-seated respect that only comes from truly knowing what it is to be young and hurting – that’s exactly the way she writes for them too. And they are so floored and shocked by her audacious authenticity – an adult who actually treats them and their pain as real and profound. It was an honour to witness the impact she had on each and every young person who was lucky enough to hear and read her words.

Which is why I am so excited that even more Aussie teens will get that chance, now that Please Ignore Vera Dietz has landed in Australia. It remains my favourite of hers. A novel of sheer magnificence, about heartbreakingly flawed and complex young characters – with no pulled punches, just deep understanding for the absurdity and beauty of life.  It’s about bullying and grief, abandonment and ignoring a problem until it festers and explodes. But above all else, it’s a novel of forgiveness. Forgiving other people and ourselves – the mistakes and bad choices, the pain inflicted and emptiness left behind. 

This book is a gift, and even if I wasn’t lucky enough to have A. S. King growing up, I am so thankful and relieved that today’s teens do. 

And that’s enough. Hell, it might even be everything. 

What were you like as a teen? And what were some of the formative works you encountered that still shape your writing today?

The farther I get from my teen years, the more I see myself as a fairly confident teen, even though I was a walking contradiction. For example: I was a determined athlete and a fantastic cigarette smoker. Also: I was determined to do something that would somehow help the world, and yet the prescribed path to this – school – was something I loathed.
But reading? And thinking? And writing? That was for me.

Funny that I separate these things from school but…now more than ever in American education, administrations are forcing teachers to teach to a test so maybe I was ahead of my time in opting out.

I read a lot as a kid, and once I got into my teens, I was required to read Paul Zindel’s The Pigman. I fell for Zindel. I read everything he’d ever written many, many times. I’d say the most important book for me as a teen and as a writer early on was Confessions of a Teenage Baboon. Zindel crafted well-defined and very strong adult characters and told stories of teens navigating adults. For me, that’s the definition of being a teen. Navigating adults.

When I first entered the YA world here in the US, I had more than one editor reject my work because it contained fully-formed adult characters. I stuck with what felt true to me because that’s what artists have to do.

Why do you write YA?

I believe teenagers are capable, complex human beings, and I love writing for them and about them. I didn’t do this on purpose. I’d been writing novels for a long time and at some point (far later than I should have) I realised that all of my characters’ stories started in their teen years. I wondered why. I came to this conclusion: our early years are called formative for a reason. Everything that happens to us before the age of ‘adulthood’ forms us. What an exciting, expansive time of life to study – the formative years. And what a fantastic way to help the world – to write honest portrayals of these formative years so teenagers could see themselves in books, face hard things and grow into stable adults. So, that’s my hindsight answer. But really, there was no why. I just naturally wrote this way.

What is it about teenagers that makes you want to write for – and about – them?

I’m really, so, utterly tired of seeing teenagers get a bad rap. They are the punchline to so many jokes. For what? Having an age that starts with the number one? When a toddler trips over their own feet, we ask them if they’re okay. Add ten years and if the same kid trips over their own feet, we snap at them or make them the brunt of a joke. I meet a lot of teenagers in a year and when I ask them, ‘Hey – have you guys noticed that adults roll their eyes at you a lot?’ they all say yes.

This upsets me because teen years are some of the hardest to get through and it’s hard enough without the added eye-roll. It also upsets me because all of us were teenagers once and I can’t quite figure out where this superiority comes from. I see it in twenty-somethings and beyond – as if the minute we are no longer teens, we are out to be better than the people still stuck there. I don’t know. I’m passionate about how smart and caring teenagers are. I’m amazed by how open-minded they are. I don’t understand why they are, in most cultures, the butt of our jokes.

And on a serious note…we are living in an age where teenage mental illness is an epidemic. I reckon it’s about time we STOP calling teenage emotions DRAMA. Stop it. Now. It’s time to take things seriously. I’ve had people argue with me on that – they say that teenage emotions are fleeting, they are happy one minute and sad the next. Yeah. Maybe. But will being an asshole about it help them in any way? No. So stop.

And what do you say to any critics who throw out the tired question ‘Will you ever write a “real” book – for adults?’

Oh, please. I’ve heard this a few times – always from someone who hasn’t read my books or who doesn’t read young-adult books or any books at all. Anyone saying that sort of garbage is just out to make another person feel small. Which, to me, makes the asker seem small. Seriously. I’m probably too busy writing an awesome book to answer this question in real life.

Why do you think parent characters often get forgotten in a lot of modern YA? You make a point of writing multifaceted adults in your teen characters’ lives – like the wonderful father Ken Dietz in Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

I will admit to not really liking books where teens or children are the only people populating the landscape. It seems so unrealistic to me. 

I will tell you what happened to Ken Dietz in Please Ignore Vera Dietz when editors were reading it and bidding on it. He nearly got cut from the book. It started with me asking one editor if she had any editorial ideas and she said, ‘We have to cut the father, of course.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, wait, what?’ Then I asked about Ken’s flowcharts. She said ‘Yeah, those go, too.’ I asked why. Her answer was: TEENS ONLY WANT TO READ ABOUT TEENS. 

Still breathing?


So, I don’t agree with that. Especially considering my earliest inspiration was Confessions of a Teenage Baboon by Zindel. I LOVED reading about adults. 

So, if I was to guess, the answer to the WHY of this question is: for some weird reason, there are editors and other publishing or even library professionals who have a problem with adults in YA or children’s books. Often, you will hear the agency reasoning, which goes like this: make sure there are no adults in the book solving problems because the whole point of a book for children and teens is that they have to solve all the problems themselves!
And we wonder why kids don’t come to adults for help.

I may be weird for thinking that way but I’m still reeling, ten years later, at the original misconception that teens only want to read about teens. As if all teens were just cranked out of the teen factory identical to every other teen.

I should add that my goal since I dreamed of being a writer at age fourteen was to write books that help adults understand teens better and to help teens understand adults better. So for me, there was never a question of including both age groups. My 2019 book is three generations wide. I’ve always been fascinated with generational differences, and how we navigate them as humans.

Your books are weird and wonderful, and like they’re sometimes showing the real-world through a fun-house mirror, slightly off-kilter… What do you say to those who ask if the surreal and bizarre in your books are ‘real’ or figments of your characters’ imaginations? For instance – is the pagoda really sentient in Vera Dietz?

Oh, that pagoda. Hmm. Well, I guess life is surreal, Danielle. I mean, it is, right? And who better to write about in that sense than teenagers? Teen years – talk about surreal. So I think literary elements like sentient pagodas make sense in all books, but especially YA books, I guess, because teens live lives full of surreal expectations. Do this, do that, don’t forget this, make sure you do that, get a job, do your homework, and WHY AREN’T YOU RELAXED/HAPPY/SMILING?

See what I mean?

In the case of the pagoda, that book wrote itself and when the pagoda started talking, I had to listen. It said some smart stuff. And it had the widest view of the town, the characters, and it knew the truth. The real truth – all of it. Which is more than the characters populating the book had.

But what do I say to people who want linear answers? I say: you may have read the book too quickly. See if you can read it next time like it’s a painting or your favorite band’s album.

What do you want to say to those who think that the real world is bad enough, so teens should only read ‘happy’ YA books that offer them a reprieve from fear and pain, instead of tackling it head on as you do?

I don’t even know what to say. I mean, children’s television is there if anyone wants to go back to watching Elmo, I suppose. But seriously. What part of life isn’t contradictory inside of every second? What part of our lives is just picture perfect for every minute? Um, none. If adults want to argue that their kids have everything they need, yeah, so do mine…but they also have pain and all kinds of things that make them sad. If no one talks about it, then they feel like freaks for this. And then they hold it all in. And then what? Look around. What happens when kids hold everything in to make their parents happy and meet social expectations? A lot of bad shit. That’s what happens.

Her are some numbers. One in four American teenagers are suffering from mental illness. 

Seventy per cent go untreated. One in four women are sexually assaulted before they graduate college. One in four girls and one in seven boys have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Forty-five per cent of children have lived through the divorce of their parents. This is the tip of the shitty iceberg that is life. For all of us. Denying teenagers a helpful and real outlet for their pain is cruel. Deciding not to educate teens who don’t fit into any of these categories is cruel, too, because life is on the way and bad shit happens to people they know, their spouses, their children.

On a more serious note (hold on…more serious than that?). In America, a kid could get shot and die while they sit in chemistry class because we have gun violence that is the most surreal and unimaginable thing I have ever witnessed. You want me to make my books HAPPY? How’s that going to help their trauma? All kids by the time they hit high school have trauma. We blow it off as drama. They watch kids all over this country get gunned down in school. Even if they aren’t in that school, that’s trauma. National trauma. Yesterday seventeen people died in a school shooting. Today, we are numb – I feel like I am living inside a zombie’s body. This is trauma. 

So yeah. Come at me. I’ve got a pocketful of stats for anyone who feels teenagers should be sheltered. Also, to anyone who thinks teenagers shouldn’t read curse words, I have a pocketful of those, too.

What is the number one piece of advice you’d give your teen self? (And is this the inspiration behind all your novels?)

I have never been asked this question before in this way and I love you for it. Because I sat here thinking about it at first, and I think if I was able to go back in time and tell myself not to worry so much about all the crap people told me was important, I’d have been a lot more relaxed and happy. In more blunt terms: keeping up with the Joneses is complete bullshit.
And yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the message inside all of my novels. Among other things. I never knew that before. Thanks.

When are you coming back to Australia?

thought I’d be back this year, but it turns out I’m heading to New Zealand for their smashing Auckland Writer’s Festival in May. I’m sad I can’t make it to your shores this time around. You know how much I loved being there last year. Australians are of my sensibility. That weird Ireland/American mix. (And you pronounce yogurt the same way as we do, which is how the world should be.)
Did your time here last year bring up any inspiration for you? 

I am now eight months from my time in Australia and there’s one thing that keeps coming back to me when I talk about it.

My time in Melbourne was particularly eye-opening in that it is a globally diverse city. I’ve been to a lot of major cities. Nothing comes close to the feeling of welcome global diversity there for me. I don’t know how else to describe it.

When the conference opened, Adele thanked the indigenous tribe on whose land the conference was being hosted. This was the coolest thing I ever saw. You must understand, I am from America where this may happen in some places, but I’ve never seen it and I’ve been around. So I’ve always been an American who craves diversity and difference, and who has always wanted to talk openly about the crimes that occurred in my country – the crimes that enabled my country to be a country/the crimes that this country was founded on. I want us to finally respect the people who survived our genocide. I’d like a lot more, but the first step is respect and acknowledging the truth of our history. 

Native American history isn’t taught outside of inaccurate and dismissive accounts of what really happened. And slavery is so inaccurately taught, proportionally distorted, still not being openly discussed in order to understand present day reality. Those are both understatements. I can’t really dive into how much work we have to do on those fronts or count how many other fronts we should be working on here. The list is enormous. But to see that simple gesture – thanking for the use of the land. That acknowledgement of true history. It made me cry on the spot. I wish we did that here. I wish we had the sensibility to talk openly about anything without an argument arising. So far, that’s not happening over here. So Australia was pure inspiration. Full marks for being awesome.

How do you think Aussie teens are different from American ones? 

From what I saw when I was there, Australian teens really understood my more Irish side – meaning the side of me that talks about communities and volunteering and being part of making things in your country/area better. They weren’t afraid to talk about mental health and they didn’t balk when I talked about it, nor non-consumerism or my years being self-sufficient. They seemed to totally understand why I talked about race and how important it is to know the privilege of whiteness. I felt less weird in Australia, generally.

Now, that’s not to give American teens a bad rap. American teens are plenty savvy and smart and capable and empathetic. However, they are often shocked when I speak so openly about mental health, race, or the personal responsibility we have to our communities. Some are either so used to being universally dismissed and devalued, or they are just not used to adults talking to them about personal things so openly? I don’t know. I do feel weird here but that’s because I lived so long abroad and I think I can be weird-seeming to people who don’t know many women who speak passionately about certain topics.

I felt a confidence among Aussie teens that came from something deeper in their education, an openness to learning – something that gave them credit for being almost to adulthood. A sense of belonging and maturity. I’m sad to say that I don’t see that as often here. (I DO see it, but not as often, that’s all.) American high school has become a series of standardized tests and rites of passage floating on the surface of a great education offered by great educators…who are often at the mercy of an administration that is distracted by what floats on the surface. Confident maturity – while juggling a natural rebellion against a culture that is constantly belittling them – is all over the place, but that belittling takes its toll on that confidence. 

Here’s a line from Please Ignore Vera Dietz that sums up how I feel about living in America, what it’s like for teenagers to live in America, and that sums up this entire interview! 
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong with our lives, then I can’t see how we'll ever make things right.’