Did you know I’m related to the Potato Soup Killer? All is revealed in this Epic Author Facts video.
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.
I was recently interviewed by Rhiannon Thorne for the Three Drops From a Cauldron webzine. As part of the interview Rhiannon asked me to read of couple of the poems from Poisoned Apples.
Megan Atwood, Young Adult Books expert at About.com, asked me to put together a short list of recommended books. As Megan says, “not all these are YA–Christine gives a wide range of must-reads. But I think they all contribute to the YA conversation, especially in terms of the much-needed diversity movement. These books are vital to illuminating society’s treatment of marginalized groups and one step of many toward a greater understanding of how to change the system.”
HONOR GIRL by Maggie Thrash
This graphic memoir (graphic as in graphic novel) follows Maggie as she goes to camp one summer as she has done since she was a little girl. As a summer camp veteran, Maggie isn’t expecting anything different–let alone for her whole world to be blown apart. But blown apart it is when she unexpectedly falls for her older female counselor. As a first love, Maggie couldn’t be more surprised and saddened–the time and place is not friendly toward same-sex love. Maggie goes on a journey of self-discovery and raw emotion as she navigates love’s landscape–both terrifying and thrilling.
ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME by Audre Lorde
Hailed as a biomythography, this book from the great and amazing pioneering Audre Lorde is one that should grace everyone’s library. Lorde writes as a poet, unfurling her prose to traverse her childhood and experiences as she grew up in the 1950s. As a young, Black lesbian, Lorde’s path was anything but easy and with her beautiful voice and sensuous descriptions, readers get to enter a world both terrible and beautiful and to understand better this hero of social justice in so many forms.
UNSPEAKABLE THINGS: SEX, LIES, AND REVOLUTION by Laurie Penny
Penny digs into feminism and class and asks you to dig in deeper with her. A book that challenges gender roles and classism, talks about social justice and intersectionality, this is one of those books that will get you fired up and ready to take some action.
THE LAST LEAVES FALLING by Sarah Benwell
This book is not some lighthearted candy-reading. No, this book will punch you in the gut in the best way. Abe has been diagnosed with ALS and has already lost the use of his legs. Taken out of school as his symptoms progress, Abe finds comfort in friends from an online teen chat group. And when he makes the ultimate choice to leave the world on his own terms–in the tradition of the Samurai–Abe knows he can count on his friends when he needs them.
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Unflinching. Harsh. Heartbreaking. Amazing. This book is all of these things and a million other amazing adjectives. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes his memoir illuminating the experience of being Black in the U.S., discussing the horrific history on which America was built. Through the medium of letters to his son, Coates heartbreakingly explores his experiences of living in a Black body and the ramifications of being devalued in society, conveying the danger and damage of living in a racialized society.
Today is publication day for Backyard Witch: Sadie’s Story. The book’s illustrator, Deborah Marcero, drew this picture to celebrate.