Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cover Reveal and Interview with Jennifer Mathieu

Interviews and cover reveals are fun, and even better when you know the author. I met Jennifer Mathieu last year, when Kate from invited her to our birthday dinner. Since then I have gotten to know Jen a bit more and have heard a little about The Truth About Alice. Today we get to not only see the gorgeous cover, but we learn more about The Truth About Alice and Jennifer Mathieu.

Synopsis for The Truth About Alice:
Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

What inspired you to write a darker or edgy story set in YA?
I love writing YA because I find the teenage years fascinating - it's a time in our lives when we're trying to figure out who we are, sometimes under a lot of pressure from family, friends, and our communities. There's so much conflict, both internal and external, it makes for lots of good stories. I came up with this particular story based on something I read when I was a teenager. I used to subscribe to Seventeen magazine - this was during the early 90s - and I remember reading a piece about a young woman at a high school in Minnesota who was the subject of some nasty, sexual graffiti in a bathroom stall - really vile stuff. She eventually sued the school district because the school wouldn't clean up the graffiti. That story always stayed with me because I couldn't imagine how isolating and embarrassing it must have been for her, and all these years later it became the seed for The Truth About Alice.

When the world isn't looking who is Alice?
I love this question! My book changes point of view multiple times, but we do hear from Alice at the very end. I think the reader can put together an image of Alice that reveals a complicated young woman. She's not perfect and she's not innocent. She makes mistakes and says hurtful things sometimes, but ultimately she wants something better for her life and doesn't know how to get it. In a weird way, as awful as the events are that happen to her in the book, I'd like to think they serve as a catalyst for big, positive changes in Alice's life down the road.

What character did you love or hate the most?
It's so hard to choose, but I probably have to say I loved Kurt the shy genius the most. So many times "the nerd" is seen as this asexual creature with his head in a book or whatever, but Kurt is a teenage boy and he is totally hot for Alice at the same time that he is really into quantum mechanics. I'd like to think it comes across as authentic. I really loved him and was rooting for him the entire time I was writing the book. I still think about where he might have gone to college and what he's studying - the characters really do become real for me! As for a character I hated - that's tough. I can't say I hated any of the main characters - I loved them all for different reasons. Some more minor characters like Brandon and Kelsie's mother are pretty anger-inducing, but I hope even they come across as nuanced enough that we see reasons for why they are the way they are.

Anyone who has read YA knows about the stereo typical bad or absent parents what roles do adults play in your story?
I heard somewhere that the first rule of YA is you get rid of the parents, right? But I think that's changing in the genre. So much of the teenage experience is learning to deal with your parents who are always going to be inherently flawed because they're people. The parents in my book range from absent and not so good to loving but a little clueless to indulgent, as in the case of Brandon's mom. We only meet Brandon's mom briefly and we see all the love she clearly has for her son, but she holds him up as a hero like the rest of the town, much to Brandon's detriment. So I'd like to think there are some layers there. In the book I'm working on right now I'm making a conscious effort to develop parents who are very layered and interesting. I think it can only make the story more real for teen readers.

Kelsie was unpopular until she moved to Healy. What does her new status and popularity mean to her?
It really means everything to her. She is so terrified of losing her new status she is willing to do almost everything to keep it. She has the self-awareness to realize what she's doing, but she is so worried about becoming isolated she can't change her actions even though in her heart she wants to. In many ways, I think Kelsie's story could be the saddest in the book - even sadder than Alice's.

If you were in high school with Alice would you have followed the crowd or reached out to her?
I will be totally honest and say I would have followed the crowd. Most of us would have, which is why high school is high school and why the real world still reminds me of high school sometimes. I'd like to think I would not have been overtly mean to her, but I wouldn't have reached out like Kurt did. When I look back as an adult on some of my actions as an adolescent, it makes me nuts when I think about how many times I never spoke up and just went along with the crowd even when in my heart I knew it was wrong. High school really can be a war zone that way.

The cover is completely gorgeous and different from what is in YA today. What are your thoughts on it?
I love this cover! Christian Fuenfhausen designed it and it is so completely and totally wonderful. I love the black and white picture and what's been done with the text. I wrote Alice with short hair and I love that the Alice on the cover looks just like I'd pictured her in my mind. I just adore everything about it. It's utterly amazeballs.

Was there ever a place you were afraid to go? Either because it was too dark, safe, predictable?
There were parts of Kelsie's story that made me scared - without giving away too much her story is pretty dark in spots. But I thought it was important to tell. I went there and I hope the readers will trust me on it and appreciate what she goes through and that it will lead to a deeper understanding of her character.

What are you hoping readers take away from Alice's story?
I heard some quote somewhere - that everyone has a story that will break your heart. And that if we all knew what other people were going through we would be a lot kinder to one another. Even Elaine and Josh - the popular kids in my story - are dealing with real baggage. So that's one thing - that we should be nicer to each other. Something else I'd like readers to do after they read the book is reflect on how we treat girls and women with regard to their sexuality. We still have a double standard where a girl like Alice is thought of as a slut but a boy like Brandon is seen as a hero no matter how many women or girls he has sex with. That hasn't changed since I was a teenager but I wish it would.

This is your first published novel. What are you most excited about?
Honestly everything. This has been a dream of mine since I was in elementary school, and it's actually coming true. I think what I'm most excited about is some teenager in Florida or Oregon or wherever who I don't even know might open up my book and get something out of it. Crazy and wonderful at the same time.

June 10, 2014

About the author:
Young adult author Jennifer Mathieu (pronounced Muh-two, but if you speak French you can pronounce it better than that - sadly, Jennifer doesn't speak French) is a writer and English teacher who lives in Texas with her family. A native of the East Coast and a former journalist, she enjoys writing contemporary young adult fiction that treats teenagers like real people. She loves to eat and hates to cook. To learn more about Jennifer Mathieu visit

Friday, September 13, 2013

Monsters and Mayhem Blog Tour

I'm thrilled to be part of the Monsters and Mayhem Blog Tour. I'm a big fan of the Ashes trilogy and can't wait for the third and final book, MONSTERS. Lucky for you Egmont is giving away a set of the series to one lucky US winner!

"We stop looking for monsters under our beds when we realize they're inside of us." -- Jordyn Berner

Having worked as a consultant to a pediatric oncology service, I can tell you that a) kids surprise you and b) cancer made a lot of very strong kids even more capable because adversity really does force you to make some decisions, and fairly quickly. Really, what we’re talking here is life and death.

The thing is, cancer isn’t the only horrible thing kids deal with in real life. Real kids in terrible situations—countries under siege, at war—cope with issues of life and death all the time. When they’re forced into it—when, say, the Nazis show up at the door to march them to a death camp as happened to my dad—kids grow up in a hurry, or they die.

When push comes to shove, I tend to believe in a teenager’s resilience and resourcefulness. Sure, some kids will just shrivel up and be unable to cope, but so will many adults. I don’t think there’s anything peculiar to an adult that necessarily makes him a smarter or more capable individual when it comes to survival, other than the fact that he has lived longer, with more life experience to draw on.

But kids, the smart ones, they learn fast, and we get to see Alex’s mindset change both quickly and very radically because she’s forced into making decisions right off the bat: do something for Jack, or not; take Ellie, or leave; go to the rangers’ station or her car; trust Tom, or not; tell him about her cancer, or keep mum; leave the Waucamaw or stay; etc., etc., pop, pop, pop, one decision right after the other.

Sure, her cancer—the monster gobbling up her brain—is the most frightening thing she’s still got to deal with because it can kill her at any time, and she has absolutely no control over it. In part, I think this issue of who’s in control is why she’s so focused on being able to take care of herself before the EMPS hit: all that making fire, finding water, knowing how to forage, etc. Mastering all that gives her the control that the cancer takes away. In fact, that is something we always tried to help kids with cancer or other illnesses, including psychiatric ones, focus on: work on what you can control rather than wasting energy on what you can’t, and become as competent as you can.

And here’s what I think: my own personal feeling is that if Alex hadn’t had Ellie to be responsible for and worry about (and be pissed at) from the get-go? That might have killed her right there. Alex survived because she had to think about someone other than herself.

So, in a way, having cancer gives her the strength to keep fighting. Of course, the irony here is that her monster—that cancer—actually saves her life in the beginning, and is crucial to her survival throughout the course of the trilogy. Alex knows what it is to face death; she’s lost everyone she loves; and she understands what she can master if she tries. Simply giving up just isn’t in her repertoire.

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*****Please visit Colorimetry tomorrow for the next stop on the Monsters & Mayhem Blog Tour*****

To learn more about Ilsa Bick visit: