Wintergirls is a novel that gets into the head of a character with a psychological disorder. What helped you portray anorexia and bulimia in your story?
I have struggled with my own body image and eating habits for years, though the writing of Wintergirls helped me become much healthier. In addition to my own experience, I consulted with physicians and psychologists as well as survivors of eating disorders. My goal was to write a book that would help people understand that eating disorders start out as a symptom, a sign that a person is struggling with emotional pain. What makes treating eating disorders so hard is that they create severe medical problems in addition to greatly compounding the emotional difficulties of the affected person. In the United States, anorexia has the highest fatality rate of all mental illnesses. Eating disorders are serious conditions that we must all learn about and respond to in a constructive way in order to help the sufferers and their loved ones.
Your books are known for dealing with tough and risky issues. In Wintergirls you wrote about anorexia, in The Impossible Knife of Memory, drugs, and in Speak you showed a girl who has stopped talking for a reason she hides. Why do you think these topics need to be discussed in young adult literature?
The journey from childhood to adulthood in the modern world is filled with difficulties. Part of this is because so many teens do not have access to close-knit extended families (at least this is true in the United States). Literature is one place where teens can explore the harder truths of the world. I have heard from countless readers who found comfort in my books, who have learned some things that they needed to learn. Our teenagers have to deal with these tough and risky issues every single day. Adults must be open-minded and responsible enough to help them make their way safely past these challenges. Books can be an important part of that earning process.
The Impossible Knife of Memory explores the relationship between a girl and his father, troubled by the Iraq War. In which way do you think this book is different from your previous work?
All of my books have touched on the relationship between teens and parents, but this is the first book where that relationship is at the heart of the story. Also, this is the first book I’ve written that has a romance in it. That was a lot of fun to write. The romance nicely balances the sadness of the main character’s relationship with her traumatized father. In addition, this story humanizes parents; it shows how they have their own problems to deal with that can sometimes overwhelm them and affect the lives of an entire family.
Speak had a movie adaptation with a young Kristen Stewart in the main role. How much involvement did you have in the script?
I had nothing to do with the script, though the director did give me a very small part to play in the film. I am the cafeteria worker who puts mashed potatoes on Melinda’s plate. The experience gave me a great deal of respect for both cafeteria workers and actors. Both jobs are much harder than I imagined! I was very impressed with the work of Kristen Stewart. She was only 13 years old when she starred in the film; she is an incredibly talented and hard-working woman.
Although Melinda Sordino's narrative voice is very peculiar, the movie managed to communicate very well the book's message. How did you feel when you saw your story in such a different format?
I cried when I saw the movie. Director Jessica Sharzer, did a brilliant job translating my story onto the screen.
Which flaws and virtues do you see in the young people nowadays? What do you think it differentiates them from earlier generations?
Young people today have the same virtues and flaws of every generation that preceded them. The condition of the human heart does not change; we grow, we falter, we fall in love, we question our place in the universe, we find true friends, we have our hearts broken, we seek truth, we make mistakes, and then we grow a little bit more. The difference is that young people today face greater and more deadly challenges.
As a writer, which do you think are the most interesting issues to write about?
I’m fascinating by the tough challenges faced by ordinary teens, and how they find their true strength and sense of self when they meet those challenges.
What is your favourite part when writing a book?
When I can hear the characters in my head, and I lose track of time and space when I am writing down what they say to me.
The Impossible Knife of Memory has just been released in Spain this year. What have your English-speaking readers enjoyed the most about this story?
They’ve enjoyed the romance and the way the main character fights to keep her father alive. Many readers have told me that they are crying by the end of the book and they love that!
Can you tell us anything about your future projects?
I’ve just finished the final book of my trilogy about the American Revolution seen through the eyes of slaves who freed themselves. Now it’s time to write another contemporary YA…. but I can't tell you what it’s about yet. Ask me next year!
Many thanks for the interview. We hope you can come to Spain some day and meet all your Spanish readers!