“Time and good friends are two things that get more valuable as we get older.” I couldn’t find the author of this quote, but it sure speaks to me. And I am one lucky gal because many of the people I know are not only good friends, they are amazing writers. Karen Rivers is a case in point. The author of 20 novels, she was a guest here one year ago, almost to the date, for her book, The Girl in the Well is Me. Today, she is giving us insights into her newest Love, Ish (Algonquin Young Readers). Karen has generously offered to give away a copy of Love, Ish!  All you have to do is tweet about this post,  and you are automatically entered in the drawing! 

Karen Rivers

On Being Twelve:  Am I OK?

When I was twelve years old, a lost dog followed my sister home from school.  It was a Labrador retriever, a huge floppy boy with a lolling tongue and wagging tail.  In short, he was adorable.  But the second he set eyes on me, he went rigid and all his hair stood up on his back; he growled a warning before lunging forward and sinking his teeth into my arm.

When the owners were found and came to pick him up, they insisted that he was the friendliest dog in the world, and that he had never shown any aggression towards anyone.

Not ever.

A few weeks later, I was standing on the front lawn of my grandmother’s house with my sisters and cousins, when all of a sudden this very same dog appeared out of nowhere, bounding across the street in our direction.

“Hey,” said my sister.  “That looks like ________!”

And, of course, it was.

He spotted me, went rigid, hair-on-end, and then he came at me.   Again.

I think about that dog a lot more than you’d probably imagine.  I think about him when people say, “Dogs are such good judges of character!”  I think about him when people say, “Dogs always know!”  I think about him when people say, “I’d never trust anyone my dog doesn’t like!”

I also think about him when I’m writing middle grade novels.

After I was attacked by that dog, I began to believe that there was something wrong with me.  I was maybe born a witch, I thought.  The dog clearly had a sixth sense and although only he could see my badness, so far, eventually everyone would find out.  I was rarely enough in photos that I began to believe that I maybe I couldn’t be photographed, that my inherent evil prevented me from showing up on film, like a vampire or a ghost.  I spent ages looking in the mirror, wondering when this scary darkness in me would become visible to everyone.

I believed the dog.

I write a lot of twelve-year-old characters now.  Twelve is, maybe surprisingly, my favourite age to write.  Twelve is magical, at the same time as being so very hard to traverse.  Twelve is when we begin to really see who we are and who we will become.

Twelve is powerful.

Twelve is scary.

Twelve is brave.

I write book after book after book about twelve with the hopes of showing my readers that though they don’t necessarily feel OK, even if someone in their life – whether a dog or a human – has told them that they are not OK, they already are.  Or they will be.  They definitely can be.

Maybe what I want to do is to reach through time and space to my twelve-year-old self and to tell myself that the dog was mistaken:  I was not evil.  I was not a witch.  I was not irreparably broken inside.

I was, in fact, OK.

In LOVE, ISH, Mischa Love is not OK in both the same ways as many and in a different way than most:  She doesn’t fit in or make friends easily; she needs different validation than other kids seem to crave; she dreams of an unusual future; and, as it turns out, she’s also very, very ill.   LOVE, ISH is a novel about love – another word that begins to take on new dimensions at twelve — but at its heart, it also asks (and answers) what I think of as the fundamental question of twelve:  Am I OK?

It is a book about courage.  It’s a book about friendship.

And it’s also a book about Mars.

Karen Rivers absolutely loves writing books told from the point of view of kids and teens. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with her own kids, whose ideas she tries not to steal too often. She has two dogs, two birds, and two kids, because if one of something is good, then two of something must be twice as good. She is the author of nineteen novels.  Her forthcoming books are LOVE, ISH (Spring 2017/Algonquin Books For Young Readers) and ALL THAT WAS (Fall 2018/FSG).  More information about Karen can be found at her website at www.karenrivers.com.  You can follow her on Twitter @karenrivers or Facebook at www.facebook.com/karenrivers.