Proud To Be…

This Is Me From Now On is a Middle Grade novel that was released in April of 2010. I was skeptical at first, since my specialty is Young Adult. I quickly found out that my misgivings were unfounded. I read an excerpt of the novel online and was blown away. If I didn’t know that the characters were in seventh grade then I would have guessed by the language and the introduction of the characters that they were entering junior year of high school.

 

Barbara Dee was kind enough to send me a copy of her novel for me to read and review for Kiss My Lit. This Is Me From Now On is about a girl named Evie entering the seventh grade with her two best friends. We enter the novel at the end of summer, when everyone is starting to feel the walls of school closing in. It was time for Evie to find out which educational track she was going to be on for the school year. It was also time for Evie to make a new friend. Francesca is her new quirky neighbor that doesn’t believe in the rules and constantly breaks them. Francesca rocks Evie’s safe little world and shakes it loose. Francesca is a “little bit psychic” about something, like the secret romance between two teachers. Will their efforts to bring together a tragic love bring joy and an awesome grade in U. S History? Or will it just bring disaster?| 

The language in this novel was oddly grown up for seventh grade girls. I love that the main theme in the novel is not romance or trying to get a boyfriend. It’s about friendship and making a friendship last no matter what’s going on around you. I think a lot of girls have trouble with this when they get to be preteens. At this age you’re starting to figure out who you are and it’s possible your old friends might not like who you’re becoming. Evie is struggling to figure out who she is and Francesca’s freedom of self shows her that not everything has to fit inside perfect rules. Witty and spunky, Dee’s writing made me smile all the way through. It was clever and an honest throwback to being in middle school and trying to figure things out. 

Barbara Dee is a wife and mother of three. She started writing her first novel Just Another Day In My Insanely Real Life when her youngest was just starting to hit the public school cycle. Her second novel, Solving Zoe, is up for the 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year under the “Coming of Age Category” for 9-12 years old. Solving Zoe is also a nominee for the 2010 3 Apples Book Award under the teen category alongside great titles like Spinelli’s Stargirl and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

-What drew you to this level of writing (In terms of Middle Grade vs. Young Adult vs. Adult)? 

There are two reasons that I write for this age group. One of them is that when my own kids were this age (one of them still really is), there just didn’t seem to be enough choices for them in the library or even in book stores. Lots of times kids outgrow the children’s section but they’re not ready for the darker, edgier stuff in YA. I read a lot of YA, I love YA, I don’t have a problem with YA and I prefer to read YA, sometimes. I think sometimes when kids are 11, 12, 13, 14 sometimes; they’re not quite ready for it. I wanted to write books that were funny but took this age seriously. [Books] that didn’t write down to them or condescend to them, that took their emotions, their needs, and their thoughts seriously but at the same time are a little lighter and brighter than the things that are in YA. I tried to deal with concerns that kids this age have, but do it in a way that’s not quite hardcore YA. The other reason is that I have a strong sense of how I felt when I was that age. I can go there really easily and draw on emotions from that age really easily. Every writer has a reservoir of emotions to go back to and for some reason mine is the emotions of a 12 or 13 year old girl. That’s just very natural for me. 

-Who was your favorite character to write in This is Me From Now On

I really identified with Evie. When I was a 7th grader, I was a very good girl who played by all the rules and wanted to please my teachers and got very good grades. But I felt a little bit restless. I became friendly with a girl who was much wilder and less inhibited than I was. She always had me a little bit off balance but it was one of those friendships that really made a huge impact. The details of This is Me From Now On are not the details from my own life, I don’t use them. The emotion of those years, I used. I felt like Evie feels and I was both fascinated and horrified by this friend in the same way Evie is so I used those emotions. I identified very strongly with Evie but the character who’s my favorite is Francesca because I was drawn to that sort of character as a kid. I really like hanging out with her even now, I think she’s just fun! Everyone needs a Francesca in their life, it’s just that you have to be very careful of the chaos a friend like that can cause. 

-Do you think you’ll write for older kids or even adults? 

I might, I’m not sure about adults but I might very well write for older kids at some point. The next book I have coming out next spring is called Trauma Queen which I think is edging a little further toward YA, but I’m still very comfortable in this age group. I still don’t feel bored with this group nor have I exhausted all of my creativity writing about this group. It’s not like I have plans to write a YA imminently, but at some point I certainly would not rule it out. 

-What do you feel are the most important themes that you explore? 

Learning how to read other people in a nonjudgmental way, learning how to accept your own imperfections and other people’s imperfections, getting out of your comfort zone is one of the major themes of This is Me From Now On. That’s a very good thing for kids at that age to be able to do because I think kids feel trapped. In my books, I have that theme a lot, of kids feeling trapped by their relationships and ready to make new ones and not quite knowing how to do that or knowing how to bridge old and new relationships. I think one of the big themes of This is Me From Now On is learning how to accept and express yourself and even though sometimes other people might not want to hear what you have to say, it’s important to you and you have to express it. Feel comfortable with yourself. That’s a theme of Trauma Queen and Solving Zoe too. 

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-How do your kids feel about your career? Your husband? 

They’re really happy about it! It’s nice for them because when they see that their friends are reading my books and liking them, and laughing and thinking that they’re cool, that’s nice. I spend a lot of time over at the middle schools in town. I just had a lunch party at our local library and their friends came. It was very nice, for This Is Me From Now On, we had them act out scenes from the book. It became a celebration not just of me and my book but of all the kids in town who like to read and feel that this book is a product of the whole community. We all know each other and every time I have a new book that comes out, everyone’s excited about it. I show my drafts to kids, and I’ll ask “What’s a word a kid would use for this?” and they’ll tell me, or they’ll say “a kid would never say that”. I feel like it’s a product of our family and our community. It’s a nice feeling. 

-What are some of your favorite books?
When You Reach Me,
by Rebecca Stead. Liar, by Justine Larbalestier, and Going Bovine, by Libba Bray are my three favorites from this year. 

-What do you think of the books your kids are reading in school?
I used to be an English teacher myself. I taught a lot of Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, Huckleberry Finn, so I love books that are classics. I also think graphic novels are great. I would like kids to have access to every book in the YA section. I’m not judgmental about books at all. By the time they’re in high school they should be reading Pride and Prejudice in class and graphic novels at home just for sheer pleasure. In the MS years, sometimes the list they have to choose from is finite. I’d like to see more choices. 

-Do you think you’re going to write a sequel to This is Me From Now On?
I’m always a little bit nervous about sequels. Unless you’re JK Rowling, sometimes sequels have a rehashed quality to them. This Is Me From Now On has a certain spirit to it I’d be afraid of losing. If I did it, it would be because I had more plot in my head that I wanted to tell. I think I’ve got the characters and I would like to spend more time with them, but I wouldn’t want to write a book just to spend more time with them. I would want to have a story to tell. I think it ends on a question mark, which leaves it open for future adventures and I certainly think that the character Francesca would be hatching up new schemes. It wouldn’t be too hard to do it, but I’m not thinking of one immediately. 

-What’s the most common question your fans ask?
They often ask if there’s going to be a sequel. I find that flattering because that means they like the book and they want to keep reading. I love it when they ask that. Sometimes they ask if there is going to be a movie. I wish there would be, I would love for there to be a movie. I will tell anyone who wants to buy the rights to my book that I will be the easiest writer to work with. I don’t have any control over that, though. It’s not up to me if there will be one. 

-What are you reading now?
Actually, I just picked up Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts. I never read her before. She’s somebody who’s written a bunch of sequels too. I’m always interested in people who have written series. I haven’t started yet, but it’s on my book shelf. 

-Who is your inspiration?
Honestly, it’s not like I have a person who I look to. I really think about my own emotions, how I felt when I was that age. That’s where I start. I think you can imagine a character from the outside but unless you can connect with the emotion that the character is feeling in a very personal way based on your own emotions, it’s harder to develop the full character. So, when I’m thinking about starting a new book I think “Does this ring true for how I know I felt when I was that age?” and if it doesn’t seem to be calling up the sort of emotional memories that I have, then I don’t connect with the character and it doesn’t seem to be the kind of character I want to spend time with. I don’t use it. So, this may sound weird but in a certain way my inspiration is myself as a twelve year old. 

I would like to thank Ms. Dee for taking the time out to chat with me. She’s a wonderful lady and writes stunning and interesting books for kids. Definitely pick her up, even if you feel like you may be too old. Some of her themes are the ones we don’t outgrow. Check out Barbara Dee’s website here. Her novels are available for purchase here

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