‘Fangirl’ contains very nuanced portrayals of mental illness and also learning disabilities. Why do you think so much YA treats these issues as taboo or in a superficial manner?
Well, I think it’s probably society that treats those issues as taboo — because they’re so hard. And if you’re a sensitive person, you don’t want to mischaracterize those experiences. It would be terrible to write about someone with a mental illness and feel like you got it wrong. Like you hurt readers who were dealing with that issue.
I didn’t plan out how to write about mental illness or learning disabilities in Fangirl, but I wrote from my own experience and from the experiences of people close to me. Three of the people in my innermost circle have difficulty reading books. So when Cath is talking to Levi and saying, “How are you so smart, but you can’t read a book?” — I’m thinking about smart people in my own life and the conversations we’ve had.
Your work has been the target of book banning. As this is Banned Books Week, what are your thoughts on the censorship of your work?
My book, Eleanor & Park, is being challenged in a Minnesota county right now. It was chosen for the optional summer reading program in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, and I was supposed to visit school and public libraries this week. But a few parents managed to have my visits canceled and have requested that the book be removed from libraries.
At first I was shocked. I saw the parents’ report on Eleanor & Park and didn’t even recognize it as my book. Their main objection was to the profanity, which is definitely there, but you’d have to take those words so far out of context to think the book itself is obscene or pornographic. Eleanor & Park is about two kids trying to rise above violence and cruelty.
So I was upset that they were deliberately misreading it, that their complaints affected my visit even to a public library — and especially that they were using my book to undermine the work of librarians and libraries.
The high school librarians who chose Eleanor & Park care about their students. They’re educated and thoughtful. They should be trusted to do their jobs.
Given the depiction of a (fictional) homosexual relationship in ‘Fangirl’, there could be some challenges to this book as well. And yet, ‘Fangirl’ was chosen as the first book in Tumblr’s official book club. How do you balance these opposing reactions?
You know, no one has objected to the gay characters in Fangirl yet. So I’m not going to worry about it. I mean…I can’t let myself worry too much about any of this. I just have to write the books that are in my head and try to make them feel real and true.
What do you find easiest to write, the first or the last line of a book?
The last. So far, all of my last lines have come to me very naturally. But I always suffer over the whole first chapter. I often end up cutting the first chunk of paragraphs and starting later. (I cut the first 10,000 words of Eleanor & Park.)
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I hope that they enjoy it. That it resonates with them. That Cath feels real to them and that they care about her. I hope that they root for Levi.
Fangirl is definitely my love letter to fandom and fanfiction and fiction; it’s the book where I try to explain what it feels to be a writer. And I think I tried to say things about falling in love for the first time, and establishing your identity separate from your family.
But, ultimately, I just want readers to get sucked into the story and stay there until they finish.