My debut middle grade novel, THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL, has landed. On pub day last week, I sort of tipped-toed around, wondering if I was doing or feeling what I was supposed to. The world did feel different for me, but did it for anyone else? So far I’ve thankfully had the pleasure of getting some great reviews, but I haven’t heard much about how my readers feel, meaning the middle graders I wrote this book for. That is something I’m truly looking forward to.
One thing I have been doing to keep focused on that young readership, is to read the book with my daughter. She’s eight and an avid reader. I hadn’t yet shared my book with her because when I started the novel years ago, she was much too young. But I knew when I sold my manuscript in 2010, she’d be ready for it when it came out. It’s been funny, though, how matter-of-fact she is about the whole thing. Since I’ve published several licensed-character picture books, she’s used to mommy presenting her with a brand new author copy. This one is very different, though, at least for me. For her, it’s just another book that her mother wrote. When I gave her the novel, right out of the box of author copies minutes after they came, I held my breath wondering what she would say. “I like the cover,” she said. I showed her my dedication, which is to her, her brother, and my husband. She nodded and smiled and then handed the book back to me to go play with her gerbils.
That night, I started reading the book to her. She could read it herself, but I wanted to share my writing process with her, and because of the father’s depression and disappearance in the book, I wanted to explain anything she had questions about. We read two chapters, and she was disappointed that we had to stop for bedtime. A good sign. I didn’t want to ask, though, what she thought so far. I didn’t want her to think she had to please me. I wanted to know, gulp, what she really thought.
We talked about how I came up with the characters, their names, even their hair color. We talked about why Sonia, a girl with a Jewish-American mom and an Indian dad, felt self-conscious about her background at her new school. We talked about how I felt back then coming from the same background as Sonia. She certainly was interested, and I noticed she became extra quiet and still when Sonia would reveal something truthful she felt about her parents or her friends. Maybe she was wondering how I could possibly know what a kid could really feel like, me being an adult and all, and not just any adult, but a mom.
Then one night, towards the end of the book as we closed it and turned out the light, she looked at me as I kissed her forehead and said, “Mom, I think your book is awesome.” My heart skipped a beat and I gave her a big hug. I’m really happy that Kirkus liked the book, but my most important critic has finally given it a thumbs up. Hopefully, my young readers out there will follow.