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 http://www.jennifermathieu.com