Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly + Interview

Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly
"Twins Crystal and Amber have the same goal: to be the first in their family to graduate high school and make something of their lives. When one gets pregnant during their junior year, they promise to raise the baby together. It’s not easy, but between their after-school jobs, they’re scraping by.

Crystal’s grades catch the attention of the new guidance counselor, who tells her about a college that offers a degree in automotive restoration, perfect for the car buff she is. When she secretly applies—and gets in—new opportunities threaten their once-certain plans, and Crystal must make a choice: follow her dreams or stay behind and honor the promise she made to her sister." - summary from Amazon

I really enjoyed this book by Kelly, and I was surprised at the twist toward the end of the book. I don't usually expect twists in my contemporaries. This offers a glimpse into the life of two small-town teen sisters who are raising a daughter together after one of them gets pregnant. They're part of a low-income family and doing their best to give the baby what she needs and working hard to a better life together. It's one of the most realistic books I've ever read- every character has flaws and there's tension between everyone (just as in most family and friend relationships), but there's also lots of love and sacrifice when it matters most. This was simply a fantastic novel, and if you like contemporary, go and get this now.

and now here's an interview with the author J.M. Kelly-
1) How did you get the idea for Speed of Life?

I generally collect observations that on their own couldn't carry an entire novel, but eventually I see how they can work together and a story starts forming in my head. With this book, I think it started on the bus when I lived in Portland. It seemed like there were so many young mothers with strollers trying to get on and off the bus with babies and toddlers and I would watch them and think, "Wow. If getting on the bus is this much of a struggle (physically, kids crying, trying to pay their fares without losing hold of a baby and three bags of groceries) then what must the rest of their lives be like?" And yet, there they were, getting on with daily life.

Also, I heard about the car restoration program in an interview with Jay Leno and immediately wished I'd done a program like that (even though I have no experience working on cars, I grew up in an old-car/mechanic family). I thought it would be a great way to mix up gender stereotypes in a YA novel.

The idea of writing about kids living in poverty came partly from being tired of reading YA about kids trying to get into college. I'd like to see someone work out the statistics for YA characters who get into Ivy League colleges, versus the real numbers because it seems like most of the characters in YA are applying to an Ivy League and getting in. Sure, some of them are getting scholarships, but in lots of books, paying for college doesn't even come up…it's a given the rich parents will foot the bill. Something like 35% of American high school graduates don't even go to college and I'm betting they'd read more books if they saw themselves in them. I think that while we're all throwing around the word "diversity" we should also consider what it means to include economic diversity in YA.

2) What are you currently working on? Can you tell us anything about it?

I'm trying my hand at an adult novel set in 1962-63 Vancouver, Canada. It's presenting all kinds of challenges I've never faced before, the least of which is I wasn't even alive then! I wouldn't call it a straight-up romance, but it's definitely a love story… I'm about halfway through the first draft. Right now, it's called IN HER LIGHT, which is a reference to photography as it plays a big part in the book. Luckily, my husband is a photographer, still working with film, and so he can answer many of questions. Also, sailing is important to the story, so I'm learning about that in addition to all the other research. Luckily, I live on an island full of people with sailboats.

3) Do you have any favorite snacks as a reward for writing, or as sustenance while writing?

Well, I eat all the time when I work. I remember Ann Landers (or Dear Abby?) saying that she made it a rule to never eat at her desk, but I'm just the opposite. I'm a very snack-oriented person, in fact, around here we have a made up word we use because snacks are so important…snackage. A typical snackage plate for me (which I have around 11am) includes: 5-6 crackers with goat brie (and roasted tomato if I'm lucky), a few more crackers with artichoke dip, sliced sweet pepper, carrots, dried apricots, a few cashews, a pickle (when I can get my favourites from the States), and a piece of dark chocolate. I usually drink tea with this snack, and then in the afternoon I have espresso with hot milk and a shortbread cookie. Sometimes I forget to eat lunch because I'm working, so snackage is extra important! I also love popcorn about 4pm.

4) What book(s) are you currently reading, or about to start? Any 2017 titles you're most looking forward to?

Almost every night of my marriage my husband and I go to bed at the same time, but last night I stayed up until 3:30am reading BELGRAVIA by Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey). It is a very long, very soap opera-y novel and not really my usual read, but so deliciously indulgent…just very dramatic and entirely predictable—book candy, really. However, I have recently read the best book I've read in years called A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. It's literature (which honestly, I don't read a lot of because usually nothing happens), but it's hilarious and just such a fantastic example of how to structure a book where nothing much happens and make it completely fascinating. I loved it so much I am going to buy it and read it again (got it from the library) right away. As for 2017 YA, I'm really looking forward to Sara Zarr's new book, GEM & DIXIE. I always love her writing. And Joelle Charbonneau has a book coming out that looks very exciting called DIVIDING EDEN. I'm a huge Liane Moriarty fan (not so much of her most recent book) and might reread something older again soon. A writer can really learn from her.

5) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. Oh, and be kind to yourself and enjoy the writing because publishing is a long, long road and you need to pace yourself for it!

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

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