I’m excited to share the fifth interview in the Debut-to-Debut Series! I’ve been talking to a fantastic group of debut young adult novelists this spring and summer, and that will continue throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019—the year leading up to, during, and following my own debut. I’m so excited to share these books, and insights into these authors’ experiences, with you. You can find all the interviews in the series collected right here.
I recently corresponded with Rebecca Barrow about her debut young adult novel You Don’t Know Me But I Know You (HarperTeen, August 2017).
From the jacket:
There’s a box in the back of Audrey’s closet that she rarely thinks about.
Inside is a letter, seventeen years old, from a mother she’s never met, handed to her by the woman she’s called Mom her whole life. Being adopted, though, is just one piece in the puzzle of Audrey’s life—the picture painstakingly put together by Audrey herself, full of all the people and pursuits that make her who she is.
But when Audrey realizes that she’s pregnant, she feels something—a tightly sealed box in the closet corners of her heart—crack open, spilling her dormant fears and unanswered questions all over the life she loves.
Almost two decades ago, a girl in Audrey’s situation made a choice, one that started Audrey’s entire story. Now Audrey is paralyzed by her own what-ifs and terrified by the distance she feels growing between her and her best friend Rose. Down every possible path is a different unfamiliar version of her life, and as she weighs the options in her mind, she starts to wonder—what does it even mean to be Audrey Spencer?
KIT FRICK: When seventeen-year-old Audrey learns she’s pregnant, she and her boyfriend Julian are faced with a complex decision: What happens next? While the choice ultimately rests with Audrey, it’s not a decision she makes in a vacuum, and the people in Audrey’s life support and challenge her in different ways. Tell us a bit about creating Audrey’s network of family and friends: Were there specific voices you wanted Audrey to hear throughout the course of the novel? Any ideas about teen pregnancy that, as a writer, you worked to challenge, elevate, or overturn?
REBECCA BARROW: In all honestly, I didn’t have any idea of specific voices I wanted Audrey to hear from. She actually doesn’t tell many people about the pregnancy, and the people she does speak to are all supportive and tell her that whatever she decides, they’ll be there for her. Although that itself was a pretty specific choice I made—I wanted to surround her with supportive voices. Firstly because I think anyone who becomes pregnant should be given that grace and it infuriates me that in reality that’s not what always happens, and secondly, because it almost pushes Audrey into having to make this choice by herself. Or not by herself, for herself. She doesn’t have her parents or friends or boyfriend telling her what to do or pushing her in one specific direction, so she can’t lean on that (even though she does take their words into consideration). Audrey has to take everything she hears and every thought of her own, and figure out by herself what she wants to do.
The one person I did want Audrey to hear from was someone who she knows has been in this same position as her before—her birth mother. I won’t go too much into detail about what happens between them, but it was important to me to show the impact they still have on each other, seventeen years after everything.
KIT: You Don’t Know Me But I Know You is, at its core, a novel about difficult choices and the process of discovering—and deciding—who you are and what your future will hold. Audrey’s story is uniquely hers, yet adolescence is a time of identity formation and big decisions for many teens. What about the idea of shaping one’s own identity—both with the cards you’re dealt and the ones you deal yourself—appeals to you on an authorial and/or personal level?
REBECCA: I think writing about who you are and who you want to become really appeals to me because so often, we are told who and what we’re supposed to be. Especially when you’re young; there’s so much talk and assumption about the path you’re going to follow, and so little room given for people to actually figure things out for themselves. Then there’s the assumptions that come because of your gender, your race, your sexuality, your economic background…I love to see people pushing back against those assumptions, giving all of it the middle finger and becoming wholly themselves.
I find myself writing about characters who are yearning for big things. There’s a point in life, I feel like, when we switch from telling people that they can do anything they dream, to saying that they need to be “realistic.” I don’t think the two are necessarily mutually exclusive, and I like exploring that.
And I really like the idea that we can constantly be shifting and changing who we are, what we want—as teenagers, or thirty-somethings, or at seventy years old.
KIT: Tell us something about You Don’t Know Me But I Know You that isn’t apparent from the book cover or flap copy. We want the inside scoop!
REBECCA: This book has been through a couple of transformations—it actually used to be dual POV. So Rose (Audrey’s best friend) had her own chapters and her whole storyline was explored a little more in-depth. I ended up pulling the book apart after feedback that it was really heavy and I was maybe throwing too much into this one book. I would love to go back into Rose’s story in some way one day; she’s such a complex character, and a challenge for me to write, in a good way.
Another thing: in the very first version, Audrey did not get pregnant. Her mom did!
KIT: What gives you the most joy about your life as a YA writer right now? Tell us about something that brings you satisfaction at this moment in time.
REBECCA: Right now, it’s seeing my writing get better. I love working with my editor, Elizabeth Lynch, and the way she pushes me into places I hadn’t even thought of going. I always want to challenge myself and grow, and I hope that as my career progresses, people will sense those changes in my work. It’s an amazing feeling to step back from what I’m working on and think, “Oh, wow. I’m really proud of this.”
KIT: The publishing journey is unique for every author, but it’s safe to say that the road to book publication is filled with surprises, twists, and turns for all of us. What has surprised you most about the process of putting a first book into the world?
REBECCA: The waiting! I know, I know, that’s not a surprise to anyone but me, right? We all know publishing is just waiting and secrets. But I wasn’t at all prepared for what I’ve come to think of as the lull—the time between deal announcement and the point around three months out from publication when things start happening. That time felt endless to me—the initial excitement everyone has kind of dies down, because your book’s still so far away from being out, and there’s nothing much you can say to people beyond “I’m working on edits!” It’s been a long eighteen months.
KIT: Drawing from your own unique experience, what advice would you to give to future young adult debut authors, or debut novelists in general?
REBECCA: My favourite, oft-repeated advice (that I could do with taking…) is keep your eyes on your own paper. Your career is not anyone else’s career, your book is not their book, your path is not their path. You will stress yourself out so much looking at other people’s tour dates and festival appearances and starred reviews and and and… Just because you might not have those things doesn’t mean people don’t think your book is good, or that you are not worthy, or you’re not going to be successful. There’s only so much that you the author can control, and the rest is beyond you. So focus on your writing, whatever promotion it is that you’ve decided to do, and let the rest go.
Rebecca Barrow writes stories about girls and all the wonders they can be. A lipstick obsessive with the ability to quote the entirety of Mean Girls, she lives in England, where it rains a considerable amount more than in the fictional worlds of her characters. She collects tattoos, cats, and more books than she could ever possibly read. You Don’t Know Me But I Know You is her first novel.
Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, summer 2018), and her debut full-length poetry collection is A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press, fall 2018).
You Don’t Know Me But I Know You is out now and is available wherever books are sold. Allow me to recommend your local indie, in addition to Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
Stop back soon for future posts in the Debut-to-Debut Interview Series. I’ll be talking to Akemi Dawn Bowman in September and more fantastic authors throughout the fall, winter, and beyond!