Interview: Sherry Shahan, Author of Skin and Bones

 

 

Sherry Shahan photoRecently I reviewed a book for young adults called Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan. The book tackles the issue of anorexia and other eating disorders through the eyes of a teen guy, who is undergoing treatment. Sherry agreed to answer a few questions for Mother Daughter Book Club. com about her writing and her book, and I know you’ll be interested in what she has to say.

Sherry graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teachers a yearly writers course for UCLA Extension. She has nearly 40 children’s books to her credit, both fiction and nonfiction.

As a travel writer, she’s ridden horseback with zebras in Kenya, snorkeled with penguins in the Galapagos, and hiked a leech-infested rain forest in Australia.

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

SS: When my two daughters were young I was fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom. I began tinkering with articles for a local newspaper. It was more of a hobby than a career choice—something to keep my brain from turning into strained carrots. I later tried longer forms: magazines and newspaper articles, short stories, essays, etc. Moving back and forth from short nonfiction (younger readers) to novels keeps me inspired. I’m never bored. 

What do you like most about writing books for teens?

SS: When writing for teens I feel like I’m in a conversation with another adult—that we’re in a safe environment where we can discuss serious issues (‘war’ in Purple Daze, and body image in Skin and Bones). I love visiting high schools and hearing about the challenges teens have in their highly charged emotional worlds.

Why did you decide to write about eating disorders and the teens who are struggling with them in your book Skin and Bones?

SS: Skin and Bones grew from a short story I wrote several years ago. Then titled “Iris and Jim,” it sold quickly to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included it in their YA anthology, and later in their Best of collection. In total the story has appeared eight times worldwide. My agent encouraged me to expand it into a novel.

Reading about a guy struggling with anorexia is unusual. Why did you want to show readers that perspective?

SS: Anorexia and bulimia are often considered a ‘girl’s disease.’ So I wanted to delve into the psychological mindset from a different point of view. According to The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, this disorder affects approx. 25 million Americans, in which 25% are male. Interestingly enough, when visiting schools, teachers and librarians frequently mention knowing male students with anorexia.

What was most challenging about writing Skin and Bones?

SS: More than one anorexic in my story figures out how to beat the health care system. They’re experts at manipulating family, friends, and their environment. Yet I worried about Skin and Bones becoming a how-to manual for those still in the throes of the disorder. On the other hand, I wanted to include information about the potentially grave consequences associated with the illness. But I feared sounding didactic. Sometimes I sprinkled facts into farcical scenes. Other times statistics emerged in dialogue between ranting patients. Either way, disseminating information felt more organic when slipped in sideways.

The teens in Skin and Bones live in a center that treats eating disorders of all kinds. Tell us a little about why you chose that location instead of say, someone living at home dealing with the same issues.

SS: The first part of your question is the answer. I wanted to explore all types of eating disorders. What triggered them in the first place?  How each individual person dealt with problems. I needed to create an environment where people with varied backgrounds and emotional struggles could work together to resolve some of their issues.

What kind of research did you have to conduct before you started to write?

SS: For Skin and Bones I read memoirs written by males and females with all types of addictions. I noticed certain commonalities. Self-centeredness, for instance, and refined skills of manipulation. Guilt, which often spirals into self-loathing, tends to feed the vicious circle. I spent countless hours online scouring medical sites about the long-term effects of eating disorders, both physical and emotional. I was astounded to read about one young girl who became so thin that her body began producing ‘fur’ to keep her warm.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers at Mother Daughter Book Club. com?

SS: I empathize with those who continue to struggle with this serious illness. Thankfully, treatment is available throughout the country. The Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) lists eating disorder support groups by state. A free brochure “How to Help a Friend” is available to download. ANAD website: www.anad.org. Email: anadhelp@anad.org. Helpline: 630-577-1330.

Other sources: The National Eating Disorders Ass. (NEDA): www.nationaleatingdisorders.org The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, Inc. (NAMED): Namedinc.org

Book Review: Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere cover imageArmani is excited to celebrate her 10th birthday with her family and close friends from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. But as a hurricane named Katrina closes in on the city, it threatens to blow her party away before it even arrives. She’s happy that her family decides to stay put, and she’s thrilled that one of the presents she receives is a special locket her grandma passes down to her. But the next day a wall of water washes away all her happiness and everything comforting and familiar. Before her ordeal is over, Armani will have matured well beyond her years.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana tells the story of Ninth Ward life through the eyes of the Curtis family, with its hard working parents, five children and a grandma that helps provide care for the whole clan. Armani’s life before Katrina included school, squabbles with her older brother and younger sister, and lots of interaction with extended family. She knew where she fit into the neighborhood and where everyone else did too. Her biggest desires were to get donuts for breakfast and a puppy for her birthday.

The flood after the storm changed all that. As everything she knows gets turned upside down, Armani faces the death of loved ones, chaos in the city, and uncertainty about the future. Facing losses that would break even adults, Armani changes from a carefree child to someone who knows that family is the most important connection in a crisis, and sometimes family is forged from the people you would least expect.

The publisher recommends Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere for ages 8 to 12. I recommend the book because I think it does a good job of capturing what life was like in New Orleans both before and after Katrina and because Armani’s journey will give readers a lot to think about and discuss. But parents will want to know that it doesn’t flinch when describing the death and destruction that hit New Orleans during that time and be cautious with younger, sensitive readers.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren

What the Moon Said cover imageEsther’s Ma pays attention to a lot of signs to keep her family safe. Frequent occurrences, like seeing a ring around the moon or a spider before breakfast, have to be analyzed to determine whether they will bring good luck or bad. And when it comes to Ma, Esther feels like she always needs good luck.

The family lives in Chicago at the start of the Great Depression, but when Pa loses his job, they all move to a farm in Wisconsin. The place is run-down, has no electricity or indoor plumbing, and requires lots of hard work, but Esther finds joy in country life. She doesn’t understand why Ma is always looking for signs to help direct their lives, but Esther is also looking for signs—actions that will tell her that Ma truly loves her even though she always seems to be messing up.

What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren is fun to read because Esther’s voice is innocent, hopeful, and trusting. She wants to believe her mother loves her, buy Ma is not one to show her emotions outwardly. Always focused on the tasks at hand, she doesn’t take time for hugs and kisses. It’s not until Esther experiences a few setbacks and begins to see the faults in other lives she thought were perfect, that she truly sees how Ma shows love.

Esther is lively, thoughtful, considerate, and wholly irresistible. You’ll fall in love with her as she struggles to understand the people in her own family as well as the world around her. I highly recommend What the Moon Said for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 8 to 12.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

Maybe One Day cover imageZoe has been best friends with Olivia since elementary school, spending long hours dancing ballet in an elite program and hanging out together. But when the ballet program cuts them because they’re not quite good enough, they suddenly find themselves wondering what they’ll do with the extra time. Olivia volunteers at a community center dance program until she’s diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. Without her best friend at school, Zoe is suddenly adrift, questioning who she is without Olivia and wondering how God can let a young, vibrant teen get so sick.

Zoe is right beside Olivia during her treatment, and she’s a great support to Olivia’s family too. But as the months drag on, Zoe discovers than cancer and it’s treatment take a toll on everyone who knows and loves the person fighting it.

Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor delves into the difficult issues that arise when someone is being treated for a serious illness. Olivia’s parents constantly question whether they’re doing the right thing. Physicians don’t always know the best course of action. Friends on the sideline can feel helpless. Zoe struggles to find where she fits into it all. She feels like part of the family, yet there are times Olivia’s mom says no visitors, which includes her. Because Olivia is so important to her, she can’t concentrate in school and she skips classes sometimes to be at the hospital. Her grades start to slide.

Then there’s Calvin. A guy Olivia has a crush on but who grows close to Zoe in Olivia’s absence. There are also thoughts about college applications and what comes after high school in two years. It’s all a bit overwhelming, and Kantor does a great job of revealing Zoe’s conflicting emotions.

Maybe One Day is a great book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up to read and discuss issues about friendship, what to do to support someone with an illness, religious faith during difficult times, and finding inner reserves to get through the worst situations while learning about yourself in the process.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Giveaway and Author Post: Julie Sternberg Talks About Her Series for Young Readers

Julie Sternberg’s first book, Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, won quite a few awards and launched a series that followed with the title Like Bug Juice on a Burger, which also garnered awards. She received her MFA in writing for children from the New School, and she lives in Brooklyn with her family. Visit her website at www.juliesternberg.com. (To find out more about the illustrator, Matthew Cordell who lives outside Chicago, go to http://matthewcordell.com/.)

Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake cover imageThe next book in Sternberg’s series, Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake, is soon to be released, and Sternberg is celebrating with a blog tour that includes a stop here. Below you’ll find her essay about her inspiration for each of the books featuring Eleanor, a series targeted to readers aged 7 to 10. You may be surprised to find out what she had in mind when she planned to write her latest book.

I’m thrilled to be able to give away a complete set of the three books to one reader at Mother Daughter Book Club. com. Just leave a comment below the post about what appeals to you about the series and you’ll be entered to win (U.S. addresses only please). Comment before midnight (PDT), Thursday, March 20. Please note: the giveaway is closed. Congratulations to Sewing on winning.

Julie Sternberg Talks About Her Inspiration for Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake

Julie Sternberg photo

Julie Sternberg photo by Meredith Zinner

My daughters don’t complain about my writing, but they should. I have a bad habit of stealing difficult moments from their lives and turning them into stories.

After their beloved babysitter moved away, while all of us were still feeling miserable, I wrote a story about a girl named Eleanor who is struggling because (this is not going to shock you) her beloved babysitter has moved away. That story evolved into my first book, LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE.

Sometime later one of my daughters became deeply homesick at sleepaway camp. And so, in my second book, LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER, Eleanor faces a slew of troubles at a similar camp.

I have another series in progress, too, called THE TOP SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE, that was drawn in part from various fights my two daughters have had.

But neither of my daughters inspired my third book about Eleanor, LIKE CARROT JUICE ON A CUPCAKE, which comes out this month. Since bad things happen to Eleanor in her first two books, I wanted her to do something bad this time. As my inspiration for that story, I looked only to myself.

I think I’m a nice person. (I try!) But there have been times when I’ve said or done the wrong thing and ended up hurting someone. And then I’ve felt rotten. So, in CARROT JUICE, Eleanor says and does the wrong thing, and ends up hurting her best friend, Pearl, as well as a new girl in school. Then Eleanor feels awful and sets out to make things right.

I can’t say whether either of my daughters has acted as badly as I have. And, now, as Eleanor has too. I hope it’s happened to many people. I’d feel better about myself, and it’s always nice to write about an experience lots of folks can relate to. Regardless, I enjoyed making Eleanor naughtier this time around, and trying to figure out how she could possibly fix it.

I enjoyed thinking about kindness in expected places, too. Or the mix of good and bad in all of us. So Eleanor finds surprising support from a boy in her class, Nicholas Rigby, who usually just misbehaves and gets her into trouble. And Eleanor’s typically thoughtful father helps her by revealing an alarmingly thoughtless moment from his past.

I love that I’ve had the opportunity to write a series of Eleanor books, because with each one I’ve learned more about the characters; and they’ve become ever more real to me. I hope that’s true for my readers, too.

Want to Know More About Sternberg and Her Books?

Here are the other stops on the blog tour:

Fri, Feb 28—Kid Lit Frenzy
Sun, Mar 2—Teach Mentor Texts
Mon, Mar 3—5 Minutes for Mom/5 Minutes for Books
Tues, Mar 4—Susan Heim on Parenting
Wed, Mar 5—Geo Librarian
Fri, Mar 7—Sharpread

Book Review: The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

The Moon Sisters cover imageAs sisters, Jazz and Olivia Moon could not be more different. Jazz is practical and sensible, and since she’s the older sister she’s also had to be responsible for Olivia, a free spirit who tends to wander where her dreams take her. When their mother dies, most likely from suicide, they respond as expected. Jazz bottles up her emotions and wants to move on. Olivia wants to fulfill her mother’s dream by traveling to the cranberry bogs of West Virginia in search of an elusive natural phenomenon that will complete her story.

Setting off together, the two encounter unexpected obstacles and meet others who will change the course of their journey—tattoo-covered Hobbs whose ink seems to hide more than his skin and crusty Red Grass, who has a hidden interest of his own. As their stories converge, secrets are revealed that threaten to tear them all apart.

The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh is a story of sisters, mothers and daughters, and the ways that family members can both hurt each other and lift each other up. Lyrically told, the story shows how the secrets we hold close push away those who may help us deal with the difficulties in life.

Even though the sisters are so different, Walsh brilliantly captures the essence of each, revealing their flaws, strengths and vulnerabilities. I found myself lingering over passages, taking in the words to consider their meaning beyond the story Walsh created. I highly recommend The Moon Sisters for adult book clubs or mother-daughter groups with girls aged 16 and up. Issues to discuss include expectations put on family members and how that can affect behavior, making judgments about those who are different than us, forgiveness, and meeting family obligations versus following your dreams.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

For more information about Walsh and her book, check out my post yesterday about sisterhood and the blog tour to celebrate the book release.

Everybody’s Talking About Sisterhood

Therese Walsh photoWhen I was growing up, my sister was my main playmate. We lived in a small town without other kids our age anywhere nearby. It never occurred to us that we could ask our mom to bring us to someone else’s house to play; it was just a given that we had to amuse ourselves with whatever we had at hand. What we had was each other, a small house, and a big yard. So we spent a lot of time outside, mapping out pretend houses from grass clippings, creating sets for our Barbie dolls to star in, and playing with the various cats and dogs that were our pets over the years.

Because our house was small, we not only shared the same bedroom, but we slept in the same bed, and sometimes when we fought we drew a pretend line down the middle of the bed and dared the each other to wiggle even a toe in enemy territory. Like the sisters in Therese Walsh’s book The Moon Sisters, our personalities are very different, which means there was inevitably conflict when we had so much time together.

But our time together meant we also shared a special bond despite our differences. And even though now we live across the country from each other, our shared history and the fact that we know we can always count on each other for support will always keep up close.

###

Today, as part of the celebration of Therese Walsh’s second novel, The Moon Sisters, I’m taking part in a blog tour where all the participants are writing about sisters. You just read my story. Also, if you leave a comment here today, you will be entered to win a copy of Walsh’s new book. One person from all participating blogs will be chosen.

Tomorrow I’m running a review of Walsh’s book. Check back then to see what I thought about it (hint: I can highly recommended it!).

Teaser About Therese Walsh’s The Moon Sisters

In The Moon Sisters, her second novel, Therese Walsh wanted to write about one sister’s quest to find will-o’-the-wisp light, which was her mother’s unfulfilled dream. Also called “foolish fires,” these lights are sometimes seen over wetlands and are thought to lead those who follow them to treasure. Despite the promise, they are never captured and sometimes lead to injury or even death for adventurers who follow them. The metaphor of that fire – that some dreams and goals are impossible to reach, and that hope itself may not be innately good – eventually rooted its way into deeper meaning as the Moon sisters tried to come to terms with real-world dreams and hopes, and with each other, in their strange new world.

Olivia and Jazz Moon are polar opposites: one a dreamy synesthete, able to see sounds and smell sights and the other controlling and reality driven. What will happen when they are plunged into 24/7 togetherness and control is not an option? Will they ever be able to see the world through the other’s eyes and confront the things they fear the most? Death. Suicide. The loss of faith and hope. Will they ultimately believe that life is worth living, despite the lack of promise?

The writing of The Moon Sisters was a five year journey and at times author Therese Walsh felt like it was her own “foolish fire.” But remember, some fires are worth the chase!

Coming tomorrow: my review of The Moon Sisters. Read my review of Walsh’s first book, The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Find out more about Walsh at http://www.theresewalsh.com/.

Here’s where you can find book club materials for The Moon Sisters: http://www.theresewalsh.com/the-moon-sisters/book-clubs/. And here’s another book review at WOW! Women on Writing’s The Muffin: http://www.theresewalsh.com/the-moon-sisters/book-clubs/.

Book Review: Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan

Skin and Bones cover imageJack is in a program for people with eating disorders because his parents want him to be there. He knows the truth: his thin frame looks good and he could even stand to lose a few pounds. Jack has been obsessed about his weight ever since middle school when a store clerk assessed his size and handed him a pair of “husky” jeans. He doesn’t think he needs to change.

As he gets to know the other members in his six-week, live-in program he sees people who are just as obsessed with food as he is, some with eating it, some with not eating it. He’s attracted to Alice, a young, anorexic ballerina who has been in and out of treatment several times. As Jack sees the things Alice does to lose weight, he starts to reassess his own point of view. He and others in the program experience group sessions, family meetings, and individual therapy, but it isn’t until one of their own suffers a crisis that the true meaning of what they’re dealing with becomes evident.

Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan looks at the nature of eating disorders and how they can affect the lives and threaten the health of teens and young adults. With Jack, nicknamed Bones in the program, and his roommate Lard, an overeater, Shahan shows that girls aren’t the only ones who get eating disorders. She also really gets the voice of a teen struggling with issues around food. Jack believes he is healthy. He will do anything to burn off the extra calories he’s required to consume each day. Readers get to see why he thinks the way he does and why it’s so difficult to change that thinking.

Skin and Bones is a great way for moms and daughters in book clubs to approach a difficult topic and discuss it. What is the danger of eating disorders? Why can’t those who have them see their actions are hurting them? How do you react to someone you care about who has one? There are also facts about eating disorders and a list of resources in the back of the book. I recommend Skin and Bones for groups with girls aged 14 and up.

The publisher gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...