I just love the cyberworld of kid’s lit! While I do not personally know Jennifer Wolf Kam, today’s Friend Friday guest, all it took was a reaching out via Twitter to convince her to write a post about her new book. And what a fun post it is! I know you’ll enjoy reading her thoughts. . .and I know you’ll love reading her new book.
I was in 10th grade when I started to write it all down. Not my stories—those I’d been scrawling in crayon for as long as I could remember. At 15, I wrote down my feelings—the swirling in my head, the inside aching. I played with poetry, eventually filling a spiral notebook with hundreds of poems, most of which will stay buried in the yellowing pages of said notebook.
I’ve heard that people often write from the perspective of the age to which they’re most connected. When I close my eyes, I can imagine my white down comforter, fuzzy mauve carpeting, vanilla candles—my grey push-button phone attached to the wall with its long spiraling cord. My journal tucked neatly into a trunk beside my bed. Its companion purple pen, with the grape-scented ink and how my words poured out in flowing lavender script.
So…15. There it is. There I am. Somehow, no matter how old I get, part of me will always be there. This age in all its hormonal, angst-filled glory is still the most palpable for me. The most real.
It’s not all misty-eyed nostalgia. At that age, friendships are tenuous and sometimes scary, but also lifelines. Dating is at once exhilarating and terrifying. There’s love, unrequited love, growing self-confidence, lack thereof, finding your sense, your shape, where you’ll fit into this world. There are choices, decisions and feelings to consider. Friendships grow and evolve and sometimes fade.
In my new novel, Devin Rhodes is Dead, Cass and Devin have, at best, a complicated relationship. The girls have already begun to drift apart when the worst happens—Devin is found dead at the bottom of a ravine just before her 15th birthday. When I wrote Devin Rhodes is Dead, I was thinking about friendship and finality. What happens when you lose someone and there’s ambivalence? What happens when the friendship hasn’t finished evolving and then it’s over? When there’s no possibility for closure? But, then, maybe there is a chance to get that closure somehow. The mystery behind Devin’s death is told in chapters that alternate between the past and the present. But at its heart, Devin Rhodes is Dead is a story about friendship. About the things we do for those we love, even when that love has been damaged.
At 15, friendships can be fragile, delicate things. But I think they teach us how to navigate a lifetime of relationships, when to pull away, but also when to invest the effort. Those early connections are often our strongest. Despite what happens, what shape our lives take, those relationships, and the things we took from them, reverberate throughout our lives.
I’m not wishing I could go back. My life is good. But that part of me, where I first tried to make sense of things, is always just beneath the surface. In a way, I think, we are all still there. Which is one of the things that makes children’s literature so universal. It is ever wondering, ever exploring, enabling us to do the same.
Jennifer Wolf Kam began writing stories as soon as she could hold a crayon. Today she holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD is her debut novel and the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals Children’s Book Award. Jennifer is a four-time finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, offered by the journal, Hunger Mountain. She lives in New York with her husband, two sons, a kitten named KitKat, and a love of chocolate.