The cover for my new novel in verse, Ask Me How I Got Here, was revealed today on the Greenwillow Books blog. I also answered a few questions about how I came to write the book:
1. This is your second book for teenagers, and your second book of verse. Ask Me How I Got Here tells the story of one young woman, rather than many, but it deals with emotions and decisions just as heavy as those in Poisoned Apples. Does poetry allow you to tackle difficult topics in a different way than prose?
Ask Me started like Poisoned Apples did, as a collection of poems tied together by recurring themes. Gradually, a main character emerged who was similar to me in many ways, but also different. I realized Addie deserved her own story. For me, writing a novel in verse offers me the challenge of moving through a narrative moment by moment and really concentrating on what my characters are thinking and feeling in each scene. Ideally, poetry is a distillation of experience. Difficult topics lend themselves to that kind of intense focus, I think.
2. How would you describe, Addie, your main character?
Addie is a junior at an all-girls Catholic high school. Most of the time she just goes along doing what’s expected of her without questioning those expectations very deeply. Then she gets pregnant, and she’s forced to confront who she is, who she wants to be, and what she truly believes.
3. In Poisoned Apples, you used fairy tales to speak about issues facing young women. In Ask Me How I Got Here, you use a different set of iconography and stories. Can you tell us more about that?
When I started writing the poems that led to Ask Me, I was reading a lot of saint legends, many of which are darker and more graphic than anything from the Grimms. (The wicked queen dancing to death in red-hot shoes at Snow White’s wedding reception is mild compared to what the virgin martyrs go through!) The legends prompted me to consider the representation of women’s bodies as symbols—symbols of purity, corporeal wickedness, maternal love—versus the actual flesh-and-blood experience of being female. I love Virgin Mary iconography, and I began to write poems that presented Mary similarly to the way Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel are presented in Poisoned Apples—as a real girl, not an archetype. Because of Addie’s religious upbringing and situation, I figured she’d be having such thoughts, too, so I incorporated those poems into the text in her voice.
4. Women’s rights are being widely debated and discussed right now. What do you hope young women will take away from Addie’s story?
I hope it will encourage young women not to define themselves by anyone’s rules or morals but their own. Taking stock of what you’ve always been taught and realizing that it doesn’t work for you, that maybe it’s done more harm to you than good, can be both liberating and terrifying. I didn’t have an awakening like that until college, when I left my cocoon and, for the first time, found myself surrounded by people from a wide variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds. I still struggle to overcome fear and speak out for what I believe. Ask Me is a part of that ever-ongoing process.