THE SUMMER I WASN’T ME by Jessica Verdi

image001The Summer I Wasn’t Me
Sourcebooks Fire, April 1, 2014
ISBN 9781402277887

Lexi has a secret…

Ever since her mom found out she was in love with a girl, seventeen year old Lexi’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.

You are on the road to truth. Help is on the way

The road signs leading to New Horizons summer camp promise a new life for Lexi- she swears she can change. She can learn to like boys. But denying her feeling is harder than she thinks. And when she falls head over heels for Carolyn, one of her fellow campers, Lexi will have to risk her mother’s approval for the one person who might love her no matter what.

In The Summer I Wasn’t Me, Verdi writes with raw honesty and an open heart, asking the hard questions and exploring emotional depths and difficult truths in her character that no YA author has done before.

Praise for The Summer I Wasn’t Me

“A powerful indictment of reparative therapy- a sweet love story- and an unforgettable main character!.”

– Nancy Garden, author of Annie On my Mind

 

My Review

Owl Rating:

five owls

 

You need to read this book. That could honestly be my entire review.

I finished The Summer I Wasn’t Me in two days. Two because I couldn’t finish it in one because I couldn’t stop crying long enough to read any further. In actuality it only took me a few hours to read the book.

When I was done I gave it to my friend. She was interviewing me for a project on children’s literature and I mentioned it as an example of books, like Speak by Laurie Hale Anderson, that empower teens to act, to speak out, to be the person they want to be, even if others don’t approve. She asked could she borrow it and I gave it to her. She finished it in a few hours, giving me a play-by-play the entire time. Her words, “Oh my goodness, the feelings, it was amazing.”

You see Jessica Verdi has this amazing talent. She’s able to thrust the reader directly into the characters in this way that feels so close up you don’t even realize you’re falling before you’ve fallen and the next thing you know you’re squeezing your childhood stuffed animals for any source of comfort.

You need to read this book.

This book affected me so much. I know my younger self, who was dealing with some of the same things as Lexi, would’ve loved this book. I mean, I’m still dealing with it and having Lexi, no matter how fictional she is, is a godsend.

You will fall deeply in love with these characters. They will become your siblings and you’ll want to protect them from all the bad. Unfortunately you won’t be able to and it will rip you apart but it is so worth it. I often speak of reading as a cathartic experience, this is one of those books that produces that.

There’s a conversation going on now/been going on for years about why we need diversity in children’s literature. We need it because we need more books like The Summer I Wasn’t Me. As Christopher Myers spoke about and as an author I love recently posted about, publishing is a business and as such it pays attention to The Market. If the Market, if the sales don’t show, books like Jessica Verdi’s won’t continue to be published and then where will teens like my younger self be? Alone. When they feel like they can’t talk to anyone else, like no one understands them they won’t even have the characters in the books that helped me get through some rough patches. Not if we don’t show The Market that we, the consumers, want books like The Summer I Wasn’t Me.

So please go out and buy it for your library, gift it to the teens in your life, order it from your indie bookstore, this is a book that will change your life.

Oh, and my interview with the author is definitely worth your time 🙂

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

 

Interview with Jessica Verdi (Author of THE SUMMER I WASN’T ME)

Meet Jessica!

jessica-verdi-225x225

Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. She loves seltzer, Tabasco sauce, TV, vegetarian soup, flip-flops, tattoos, and her dog. Jessica is also the author of My Life After Now.

Hi Jessica, welcome to Whimsically Yours!! Why did you decide to write this book? More specifically, why did you decide to set it at an anti-gay camp?

When I was toying with ideas for the topic of my second novel, this story really called out to me. I’ve always been fascinated by these so-called conversion camps, places where religious leaders claim they can turn gay kids straight. There is no doubt in my mind that they’re claiming to do the impossible, and that telling LGBTQ kids there’s something wrong with them is nothing short of abuse, but the root behind these camps actually, in a twisted way, stems from a good place. The parents who send their kids to these programs truly believe their children are on the wrong path in life and that they will go to hell if they don’t make a change. These parents are desperate to “save” their kids, in their own misguided way. This is something that has long intrigued me, and a world I knew I wanted to explore in the book.

But it all came together for me when, funnily enough, I was listening to Lady Gaga’s song “Hair.” The chorus of that song goes,

I just want to be myself and I want you to love me for who I am.

And I started thinking about all the kids who aren’t loved for who they are, and that made me so sad. And I knew I had to tell Lexi’s story.
I think you balance the preachy-over religiousness of the camp counselors with also still allowing for Christianity to not be seen as bad or the source of all of Lexi and the other campers’ problems. How did you do this? Was there ever a time you were worried this book would come off as a bad or stereotypical portrayal as Christians as homophobic?

Thank you! Finding that fine line between a biased, educational pamphlet and a book that has no opinion at all is something I always work hard to accomplish in everything I write, because I personally never want to write either of those. So I always try to do two things. 1) Make the characters and situations as layered and relatable as possible, so the reader, no matter who they are, will identify with and root for them, regardless of whether they agree with them or not. 2) Present many sides of the story. I personally don’t agree with these ex-gay programs, but there are characters in the book who have their own reasons for believing in it and wanting it to work. There are also characters, like Matthew, who thinks it’s complete and total B.S. I think if every character has a believable, understandable motivation, the rest will fall into place.

Why did you choose Lexi as your main character? All of the campers in this book seem to have stories that easily could’ve made for a great novel.

That’s a good question, and I guess the only answer I have is that I just really knew her. Not that I didn’t know all my characters incredibly well, but there was something about Lexi’s story that I really related to on a different level—even though we have very different lives. She was special and unique but also so familiar. I hope readers feel that way about her too.

Do you think you’d ever revisit the lives of Lexi or any of the other campers or is this it?

Never say never, right? I love Lexi, Carolyn, Daniel, and Mathew so much, so I’d love to revisit them some day, and see where they end up a few years down the line. But for now I have no specific plans for a sequel. There are so many other characters bouncing around in my head that I’d love to get to know. 🙂

The Great Gatsby is a text that’s central to the plot of the story (it’s also one of my favorite novels). Why The Great Gatsby? Was it always your intention to have passages of the book throughout The Summer I Wasn’t Me?

I’ve always really connected with pop culture, and I feel like I’m always relating things I encounter in my daily life to something that happened in a show or a lyric of a song or whatever. So when I’m writing I like giving the reader the opportunity to, as they’re reading, make connections between my book and something they may already be familiar with, since that’s what I like to do in my own life. Finding links, familiarity, shared experiences.

I love The Great Gatsby, and it seemed to be the perfect parallel for Lexi’s story. I’ve always read that book as a queer text, but there are other similarities between the stories as well. They’re both about trying to change who you are to please the person you love, they both have themes of forbidden love, they’re both about being in a new place, they both take place in the summer. And so I thought it was a good way to illustrate that there is always more than one way to look at something.

What’s your patronus? (Speaking of Harry Potter, I loved Daniel’s bit paralleling HP with Jesus.)

I’m so glad you liked that scene. I love that moment too, when Daniel finally finds a way to stand up for himself a little bit. My patronus is probably an elephant. They’re my favorite animal—so beautiful and smart and loving and gentle.

What is the first story you remember writing?

I was always a big reader growing up, but I didn’t really start writing until I was in my mid-late twenties. The first book I ever wrote was an adult chick lit magical realism story about friendship and music and finding love. 🙂

Fun Fact about yourself most people don’t know or wouldn’t expect?

I have terrible handwriting. Just awful. But luckily I’m a pretty good typer. <–ha, I’m with you there! -P

What was your favorite childhood book/author?

Oh I had so many! One series I read over and over again was Judy Blume’s Fudge series. LOVED it.

What other projects are you working on/any closing words about The Summer I Wasn’t Me, etc…?

I have a book coming out next year called What You Left Behind. It’s my first novel from the point of view of a boy main character. It’s the story of Ryden, a teen boy who got his girlfriend pregnant while she had cancer. She decided to continue with the pregnancy even though it meant stopping her chemo treatments. The story starts a few months after she dies while giving birth, when Ryden is struggling to reconcile the intense guilt he feels with the struggles of being a new dad.

And as for The Summer I Wasn’t Me, on a very basic level, I hope Lexi’s story will help readers to know they are a-ok just the way they are. And if someone is telling you otherwise (whether they’re criticizing your sexuality, your appearance, your disability, your hobbies and interests, or anything else) they’re the ones who have to take a long, hard look at themselves, and maybe start to make some new choices, not you.

Thank you so much for stopping by! My review of the book will be posted Wednesday but in the meantime here’s a bit about it:

image001The Summer I Wasn’t Me
Sourcebooks Fire, April 1, 2014
ISBN 9781402277887
Lexi has a secret…

Ever since her mom found out she was in love with a girl, seventeen year old Lexi’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.

You are on the road to truth. Help is on the way

The road signs leading to New Horizons summer camp promise a new life for Lexi- she swears she can change. She can learn to like boys. But denying her feeling is harder than she thinks. And when she falls head over heels for Carolyn, one of her fellow campers, Lexi will have to risk her mother’s approval for the one person who might love her no matter what.

In The Summer I Wasn’t Me, Verdi writes with raw honesty and an open heart, asking the hard questions and exploring emotional depths and difficult truths in her character that no YA author has done before.

Praise for The Summer I Wasn’t Me

“A powerful indictment of reparative therapy- a sweet love story- and an unforgettable main character!.”

– Nancy Garden, author of Annie On my Mind

Trust me, you want to read this book. Gave it to my friend, she finished it in a few hours and called me bawling about how beautiful it was 🙂

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

What’s Up Wednesday & #YABbootcamp Check-In

wuwspringYAB-Spring-Writing-Challenge-2014

Good Afternoon 🙂 It’s Wednesday and today I’m combining my weekly ‘What’s Up Wednesday’ post with my weekly YABbootcamp Check-in (yay efficiency)!

What I’m Reading

photo (6)

 

 Last week I finished reading my ARC of The Summer I Wasn’t Me (which is now out). It was amazing!!! My review and an interview with the author is to come, but I have to say that Jessica Verdi knows how to tell a story. It’s my first book of hers I’ve read, but it won’t be my last. She had me crying one moment and cheering on the characters the next. It was very bittersweet and very hard to read but completely worth it 🙂aa-stormfront

This week I’ve been reading (and watching) a lot of Urban Fantasy more specifically books that fall into the Speculative Noir genre since that’s what I’d define my WIP as (more on that later). 38619I’m currently reading Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher and Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews (not really Speculative Noir but it’s a YA UF I’ve been meaning to read) and then I’m on to re-read an all time favorite of mine, Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake #1) by Laurell K. Hamilton. book13It’s like part of my research in world & character building for my WIP and I’m loving them all so much!

What I’m Writing

I sent the first chapter of my WIP to one of my amazing CPs and just got it back yesterday! I have since then revised the chapter and I think I now have an opening I’m really proud of that sets up the story, protagonist, and world well.

The WIP is a YA Speculative Noir set in NOLA. I’d originally defined it as Urban Fantasy but for various reasons that didn’t capture what the book came off as, how I wanted it to be categorized, and the world and the MC’s viewpoint about the world well enough. Not to mention, though I can be a sucker for flowery language this book seemed to lean more towards a simplistic, simile laden writing style that reminded me so much of books I love like Guilty Pleasures and Storm Front. Interestingly enough it was an agent, Brooks Sherman, who defined my book for me. Read this and you’ll see what I mean. In it he talks about speculative noir and dark YA with noir elements like the TV show Veronica Mars. As soon as I read that I knew he was talking about books like my WIP which I consider to Veronica Mars meets The Dresden Files (book series) & Lost Girl (TV show). And, yes, (if I don’t get an agent from the MS I’m currently querying) I will be querying him once this WIP is nice and polished.

You can read an excerpt from the revised CHAPTER ONE, at my writer website, patricecaldwell.com!

What Else I’ve Been Doing

I’ve had a pretty busy weekend!!

easter brunchSunday was Easter and the society I’m in, Zeta Alpha, put on an Easter Brunch (it was potluck style and I made Texas-style breakfast burritos!).

<–my friends and I (aren’t we cute & so happy (thank you, sun!!))photo (7)

Oh, and then Sage the Gemini kicked off Spring Week (a week of concerts & other festivities) that evening!! He’s a rapper out of the Bay Area and though I only knew a couple of his songs it was really fun. Also, he was a great entertainer. He was hilarious and he took his shirt off 😉

Monday was the Boston Marathon!! My friends and I went out in full force to support the runners. Wellesley has a special tradition, the scream tunnel in which students line the road and try to get kisses from the runners. I got one once and it was really sweaty so although I no longer partake in that part of the tradition, it was still a very fun day!

kiss me za

<–so cute & happy once again. It was a wonderful Marathon day that concluded with me doing my laundry (finally!) and watching TV with a friend 🙂

Oh, and my bookshelf got a new addition, #BostonStrong!! Screen shot 2014-04-23 at 3.51.16 PM

What Inspires Me Right Now

I’m inspired by a lot of things. The stories about the Marathon runner survivors from last year who were able to complete the race this year, my friends and classmates who are some of the smartest & busiest women I know and yet we still make time to hang out and support one another, my mother who is going back to school to complete her bachelors while working, my father who finally quite his day job to pursue his wellness company full time & become a full-blown Texas farmer (the baby chicks hatched during the Winter and they’re getting so big so fast), my fellow writers who find time to write amongst juggling day jobs, children, and an assortment of other things, and, of course, myself for, even if I forget sometimes/often, I have a lot to be proud of.

Also, there’s some amazing conversations about Diversity in Literature (specifically Children’s Lit) going on right now/the past couple weeks. I have links to a few in my Writer Resources section, but if you’ve ever wanted to join in the conversation or learn more, now is the perfect time 🙂

Happy Wednesday and I hope it’s not so rainy where you are 🙂 Have a great week!!

Whimsically Yours,

PnC