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YA Wednesday: A Q&A with Alyssa B. Sheinmel

The-lucky-kind

Back in January we expanded our Best of the Month program to include three more titles in addition to the spotlight recommended read. With so much great YA fiction out on the market it became harder and harder to choose only one book every month, and since YA readers span so many sub-genres--from science-fiction & fantasy and literature to paranormal romance and graphic novels--we thought, the more the merrier!

This month, one of our picks is The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. When high school junior Nick Brandt’s dad comes clean to him about a long-kept secret, Nick starts to question his so-called perfect family and must face that fact that things aren’t necessarily what they seem. Soon nothing much is of interest to him—not even longtime crush/new girlfriend, Eden, with whom he’d bonded only weeks before the big reveal. In this heartfelt story about the emotional leap from childhood to adulthood, Sheinmel imprints the exchanges and dialog between characters on the reader’s mind long after the last page. Writing from the point of view of opposite gender to boot, Sheinmel truly shines (heh!) in her second novel (The Beautiful Between, her first, was well-received by the New York Post, Kirkus, and School Library Journal).

For more on Sheinmel’s research and inspiration read our Q&A with her below:

The characters are so well drawn and the emotions ring true. Does this book have a personal connection for you?
Well, first of all, thank you! To be honest, I think every book I write has a personal connection for me; even though I never went through much of what the characters in The Lucky Kind go through, many of the characters’ traits are inspired by real people and real stories.

For example, early in the book, Nick tells a story about his father, to explain what a brave but gentle person his dad is. When Nick was nine years old, he was with his dad in the town where his father grew up and he saw some older boys trying to steal bicycles outside the video store where he and his father were shopping. Now, Nick’s father isn’t based on my father, and Nick certainly isn’t based on me, but that story is true. When I was about nine years old, I was with my dad at a video store in the town where he grew up. My dad saw what was happening before I did; he asked me to stay inside the store while he went outside for a second. Of course, I didn’t stay where he told me--I went to the window to see what he was doing. And just as Nick watched his dad, I watched my dad talk two teen boys out of stealing two bikes. And just like Nick, I believe that my dad, with his reasonable arguments, actually convinced them.

How did you find writing from the boy perspective? Was this a stretch, especially when he treats his girlfriend badly?
I loved, loved writing from the boy perspective! One of my favorite things about being a writer is getting to play ventriloquist. I recommend it to any aspiring writers out there--write from the perspective of someone of the opposite sex, from someone much older than you are, from someone who is as different from you as you can imagine. It can be a challenge, but it can also be exciting. Personally, writing Nick, I felt like sometimes I got to behave badly, which was kind a thrill.

And, as it turned out, Nick’s voice came very naturally to me; I loved writing Nick. I never actually made a conscious decision to write this novel from a boy’s perspective, but as the idea for the story developed, it was just a boy’s voice that popped into my head, narrating the novel. I hesitated about it at first--would people buy my interpretation of a teen boy’s voice? Could I make it ring true? But I couldn’t have written the story any other way. Frankly, I simply didn’t have a choice!

What kind of research, if any, did you do about adoption in order to get the details right?
As far as I know, I’d gone most of my life without being personally touched by adoption (aside from the running joke in my family that I must have been secretly adopted, because I don’t look like my mother and sister, and am about five inches taller than the both of them). But all at once, a few years ago, I became close with several people who’d been adopted, and a very dear friend confided to having actually given up a child for adoption.

I began to think a lot about adoption. Two of the adopted adults that I’d met had no interest in finding their birth parents, and that was endlessly fascinating to me. I wondered how I would feel, had I been adopted. Around that same time, I read a remarkable book called The Girls Who Went Away, about women who’d been essentially forced to give up their children for adoption in the years before the Roe vs. Wade decision. The book spoke to the long-term effects that giving up these babies had had on the women who bore them, and on their families, years later. It was heartbreaking and deeply moving; I couldn’t put the book down. But I was also struck by the fact that mostly the birth mothers’ stories were told. The biological fathers were barely mentioned. I began to wonder about the effects that giving up children for adoption had on fathers; surely some of these fathers were every bit as deeply touched by the experience as the mothers had been.

And I thought, most of all, about my friend who’d given up a child for adoption. My thoughts were often not about the baby who had been given up, but about the family my friend was going to go on to have someday. I couldn’t stop thinking about that future family—that spouse, those children—and the impact that an adoption that had taken place so many years earlier might have on that future family. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head, and that’s where the story for The Lucky Kind began.

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