To celebrate the publication of Nothing Tastes As Good which was published by Hot Key Books last week, I'm pleased to welcome author, Claire Hennessy onto the blog to talk about the YA books she grew up with.
My imaginary version of adolescence was incredibly American. Even though there were a handful of Irish and British and Australian YA writers, it was the Americans that called to me. I wanted to be in a high school clique. I wanted to be jealous of the cheerleaders. I wanted to go on dates. I maybe even wanted to be in the chess club (never mind that I couldn’t play chess!).
In my pre-teens I’d discovered the magical world of the Sweet Valley universe, devouring titles from the Twins, High and University series. If you’ve never read a Sweet Valley book, here’s what you need to know: Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are identical blonde twins with eyes the colour of the Pacific. Jessica’s a sociopath. Elizabeth isn’t much better but disguises it by acting ever-so-caring. They are stalked, kidnapped and proposed to (often by princes or jewel thieves) on a fairly regular basis. Oh, and they’re always falling in love with each other’s boyfriends, and the best way to wake anyone from a coma is to get Jessica to talk to them and tell them they’re allowed on the cheerleading squad.
Thinking myself too cool for these books as I entered my teens (despite their fabulous ridiculousness), I hunted down creator Francine Pascal’s other projects. One was a set of trilogies about the beautiful, rich Caitlin, featuring much melodrama and implausibility. I adored them. The other was a trilogy she’d actually (gasp!) written herself, rather than relying on ghost writers. The Victoria Martin trilogy begins with ‘My Mother Was Never A Kid’ (also published as ‘Hangin’ Out With Cici’) and follows a troublemaker fall back in time and meet her teen mother, and learn about mistakes and taking responsibility. The following books explore summer jobs – one as a mother’s helper who’s being seriously taken advantage of, the other as a summer camp counsellor who’s fallen for her best friend’s boyfriend – and are both funny and poignant. I may have read them a couple of hundred times.
Other American writers I turned to had written for kids as well, so it was an easy step up. Beverly Cleary’s ‘Fifteen’ is a very honest and also innocent look at a girl’s first boyfriend and all the hopes that go with that, while Judy Blume’s ‘Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson’ is an incredible look at a thirteen-year-old overachiever struggling with a difficult family situation. I wanted to have a boyfriend who would drive me around! Or one with a chartreuse jacket with a dragon on it. (You had to be there.) I also loved Paula Danziger’s writing – so funny and so good on recognising that kids and teens go through some really difficult stuff, but also inspiring them to stand up for themselves. ‘This Place Has No Atmosphere’ is about a popular girl who moves to a tiny colony on the moon in 2057 and learns a lot about herself – I’ve reread it over and over. I’d love to write something like it one day (there were some bad scribbled imitations in my youth which I think have fortunately vanished into the ether).
And weirdly, now that I think about it, because I am kind of a wimp, I was obsessed with Christopher Pike. ‘The Last Vampire’ series was a firm favourite, but I also loved his standalones – you always knew that a ‘Slumber Party’ would lead to no good, or that a ‘Weekend’ away was doomed (expect angry teenage girls, dark secrets, and murder). I adored the books of his that explored stories – ‘Last Act’, in which a play a group of teenagers are putting on has a sinister echo to their real lives, or ‘Master of Murder’, where a teen horror writer (using a pseudonym so that his classmates have no idea he’s the author) uncovers the secrets of a local murder through his new book. ‘The Midnight Club’, about a group of terminal patients telling stories and fables that reveal their secrets, is absolutely haunting, while ‘The Starlight Crystal’ is basically a look at the entire history of the Earth and the universe and blew my mind a little bit.
I’m not sure how much any of these books directly fed into my writing but the one thing they did absolutely instil in me was a sense that teen books were awesome. That they could handle tricky issues while still being funny, that they could be dark because teens could handle it. That they were a space where a lot of cool stories and intriguing characters were hanging out. They still are.
Published by Hot Key Books on July 14th 2016
What happens when you give in to the voices in your head?
Annabel is dead. And she's not happy about it. Despite having strived to be 'lighter than air' back when she was alive, the consequences of that yearning haven't quite sunk in yet.
Julia Jacobs is fat. Which Annabel immediately notices when she's assigned as Julia's ghostly helper (don't even think about calling her a guardian angel). And as her helper, Julia's problem seems pretty obvious to Annabel. Fat = problem = unhappy. Sorted.
The only trouble is that whatever is causing Julia to overeat is hidden deep within her. Annabel will have to get to know Julia to uncover this secret and 'fix' her. Annabel can become the voice of reason, Julia's source of strength.
Except. . . all this time spent in someone's head has got Annabel thinking. Not just about food, but about her family too. And that maybe happiness can mean more than eradicating all the flesh from your bones.
To find out more about Claire Hennessy