The Girl Who Said No—Trish Doller
What is it about the word “no” that is so powerful?
Why was it important to explore Morgan’s mental state? The only other person who is “like” her in the sense of the book’s story is Nate, since they both witness their best friends’ deaths. And yet, I think Morgan is one of the most sympathetic characters. I was stunned when Morgan recognizes that Cara has a right to be happy.
Q: What is it about the word “no” that is so powerful?
A:I think what makes “no” the most powerful answer is the potential for devastation that it holds. At best, the person who does the asking is disappointed they don’t get what they want. At worst…well, we’ve seen the rage that rejection can cause and the length to which some people will go to exact revenge. I think it’s terribly important that girls (and women) hold onto that word and not let its power be taken away from them.
Q: Why was it important to explore Morgan’s mental state? The only other person who is “like” her in the sense of the book’s story is Nate, since they both witness their best friends’ deaths. And yet, I think Morgan is one of the most sympathetic characters. I was stunned when Morgan recognizes that Carah has a right to be happy.
A: You know, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be happy after an event like this. And Violent Ends takes us down some really hopeless paths, so I knew from the beginning that I wanted to introduce a measure of sweetness to the story through Morgan. She could easily have fallen to anger or destructive sadness, but I loved the idea of a girl who is strong enough to take back her sense of agency, let go of guilt, and allow herself to be happy again.
Astroturf by EM Kokie
Q: Poor Ray. He is fixated with Kirby, and Kirby has no idea. And yet, while Ray thinks Kirby has everything, in the end we realize that Ray is more emotionally sound than Kirby. What should we get from this? (By the way, I really like Ray.)
A: It took me a while to find my story. I knew I wanted to write from the periphery of the shooting. I knew I wanted my chapter to end before the shooting took place, when my character is still innocent of what is to come. I had this hazy idea, but I was having trouble finding the voice or my way into the story.
Then I figured out the first line: “Kirby Matheson stole my life.” And I knew that I had my story. Sometimes the belief that someone else has it better — that everyone else has it better than you — is a toxic illusion. It can eat away at you. It can make you feel small and damaged and caged. I imagine that Kirby may have felt some of that. I know Ray did.
Ray has not had it easy. He has envied the life he thought Kirby had, a life he felt Kirby stole from him. But the reader knows from the beginning of my chapter that Kirby didn’t “have it all” and that something in Kirby, or in his life, caused him to murder innocent people and then kill himself. So, Ray thought Kirby’s grass was greener than his, but in reality something in that grass was not what it seemed, and might have been toxic.
We all make assumptions about the people around us. We envy these lives we think other people are living when things are tough in our own lives. We think everyone else has it easier. We dismiss some people as not worth our attention. We label others as dangerous. And some we never see clearly. My chapter ends before the shooting, just after my character has just made this tiny, human connection with Kirby. It’s a small moment, but something about it feels significant to Ray, even if he doesn’t really understand why. And it falls in between other moments that cause Ray to stop and look more closely at his life. By the end of my chapter Ray has been changed. He has let go of some of that anger and jealousy and resentment. He can see his own life more clearly, and see where it is green and good. But the reader knows that in less than a day, my character will be changed again, and Kirby will be dead.
I hope my chapter causes readers to reconsider their assumptions about the people around them, to consider that they might not be be seeing people or events accurately. I hope it makes some readers appreciate the green and good spots in their own lives. And I hope readers think about how fast life can change, and that it’s important to pay attention, to be active in our lives and not just coast through waiting for the future to arrive. I hope we will work to see each other more fully and make fewer assumptions. And that maybe other potential Kirbys will draw someone’s notice — someone’s kindness or someone’s intervention — and maybe another tragedy can be avoided.
Q: I’d like you to comment on the numerous evil or absent parents in this book. I know a lot of parents of teens and I’m not seeing this. Am I just fooling myself? Is this really what it is like for teens today?
A: There are few perfect or ideal parents. Parents are human. They are flawed. They make mistakes and do the best that they can. And since there are few perfect or ideal children, the parents are also dealing with flawed humans, and often the story is told from the point of view of an imperfect adolescent character. One of the huge developmental steps adolescents go through is realizing that their parents are flawed and don’t have all the answers. Some kids go through it younger than others. And some parents are more than flawed. Some are negligent, absent, recklessly neglectful, and even abusive. I hope that the later categories are not as prevalent as they may seem from reading literature for teens, but I think there are a few reasons we see so many “bad” parents in YA lit.
First, I think we tend to focus on the “bad” parents. I hope that you read Ray’s mother as one of the “good” ones. She has had to work hard, often more than one job at a time, to support herself and Ray. Sometimes that meant cobbling together safe places for him to be while she worked. But he knows that she loves him, he respects her, and she is a good, involved parent. His father is absent, but his mother is great.
But, to the extent there is an over-representation of “bad” parents in literature for teens, it might partly be because fiction is driven by conflict. And for many kids, that conflict starts at home, the place they should feel safe and cared for and loved. If every story had good, loving, involved parents, there would be far less room for conflict.
And many of our teen readers feel like their parents don’t understand them or care about what is important to them. The prevalence of “bad” parents might have something to do with how often teens feel misunderstood and even mistreated at home. I hope that these “bad” parent stories help some kids see just how good they have it, and help others to realize that they deserve better and to ask for help.
As a pragmatic matter, adolescent characters in YA novels need to have agency in their stories. They need room to have a problem significant enough for an engaging plot, room for the problem to get worse or roadblocks to spring up in their paths, and room to solve the problem or attain what they desire through their own efforts. I think that is why we often see distracted, overly busy, or borderline negligent parents, even if they aren’t abusive or otherwise damaging to their kids.
But lastly, sadly, yes, there are a lot of incompetent, distracted, overly busy, recklessly neglectful, and even abusive parents in our world. Some may be well intentioned people who aren’t able to be the parents that their children need, some may be struggling with what life has thrown at them, and some may have made choices that impact their ability to parent. There are probably some of these “bad” parents in each of our corners of the world, and many of them are good at hiding their flailings, failings, and abuse. Many kids who have incompetent or abusive parents have also learned to cover well. Neglect and abuse happen across class and geography. I hope there are fewer abusive or evil parents in our world than YA literature would suggest – far, far fewer — but a lot of kids are growing up in less than ideal homes, and too many in truly damaging ones.