I love finding authors who write great stories with humorous dialogue, so The Art of Lainey was such a treat to read! Featuring memorable characters and just the right lighthearted tone, the book is a bit like Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen series (one of my all time contemporary favorites), or like a funnier Sarah Dessen.
My favorite thing about this book is the friendship between Lainey and her best friend–it was particularly enjoyable because the book is ostensibly about Lainey trying to get her ex-boyfriend back. The fabulously frank and funny Bianca is one of the best BFFs I’ve ever read, and I really enjoyed how familiar and comfortable and honest these girls are with each other. It’s our pleasure to welcome author Paula Stokes (aka Fiona Paul!) to The Midnight Garden to talk about why she thinks seeing these kinds of relationships in YA literature is so important.
Hey! I’m Paula Stokes. Wendy invited me here to talk about writing a strong female friendship. Thanks for having me on your site, Wendy :-)
I hadn’t really thought about it until a few different reviewers complimented me on the Lainey-Bianca dynamic in The Art of Lainey, but often the romance in a book tends to overshadow the friendship elements. I’m especially proud of Lainey and Bee’s friendship, because both my agent and editor pushed me to strengthen it during the various drafts of the story. First-draft Lainey was a little too mean and first-draft Bee was a bit of a pushover. “Why are they still friends?” my editor asked. I mumbled something I saw in a Diablo Cody movie about how sandbox love never dies. “Okay,” she said. “But we need to feel the past they had together. We need to understand why they accept each other unconditionally, even though they’ve grown in different ways.” Editors…so helpful ;-)
It wasn’t until my last revision that Lainey and Bianca’s BFFship really came to life. Here are a few elements that contributed to this dynamic:
- Lainey and Bee are both strong females.
I don’t mean physically strong or even emotionally strong. Lainey is tall and muscular and a star athlete, so sure, she’s tough. But she’s also really sensitive and vulnerable. Bianca is self-actualized and goal-oriented, and yet she has her own insecurities, too. What I mean by strong is tenacity, or strength of spirit. Both of these girls would be okay on their own. Their friendship isn’t based out of loneliness or insecurity. They choose to stay friends because they enjoy being together.
- They have a shared history.
This is what was lacking most in my early drafts of the book. I knew Lainey and Bee’s past—every sleepover, every soccer game, every marathon phone conversation, but it wasn’t coming through in the story. Now you find out about how they met, about how Bianca helped Lainey with an unfortunate hair-highlighting incident, how Lainey used to talk to Bee on the phone in the middle of the night when she woke up from a nightmare. I don’t tell you every detail, but I think it’s enough so that readers can kind of fill in the blanks and understand how the friendship got so strong.
- They have their own futures.
Real friends don’t need “together forever.” After graduation, Bianca is entering the premed program at Mizzou, about three hours away from St. Louis. Lainey doesn’t know what she’s doing yet. Sure, she’d like to go to Mizzou so she can be with Bianca, but her number one goal is to be able to play soccer in college. This friendship will continue to thrive, even if the girls end up thousands of miles apart. There’s no doubt in my mind that these two will stay close and be bridesmaids for each other someday. That’s just how they roll.
- They complement each other.
Both girls are fully formed people with their own likes, hopes, strengths, and weaknesses. Lainey is aggressive and emotional. Bianca is more reserved and laid back. Whenever Lainey starts to get all dramatic, Bee reels her in. Later, when Bianca needs someone to support her, Lainey steps up immediately. They have a certain synergy.
- They are supportive instead of competitive.
Lainey and Bee don’t compete—on or off the field. Lainey is very competitive, but she doesn’t need to remind herself how she’s better at soccer than Bianca to feel good. She knows Bianca is smart and beautiful and goal-oriented. Occasionally Lainey envies her friend, but that’s just because she wishes she were more like her, not better than her. Bianca knows Lainey is more popular and athletic, but she doesn’t feel jealous or play the role of second best. She’s got her own things that matter to her.
- They keep it real.
Bianca and Lainey talk about all kinds of stuff in this book—high school, college, soccer, boys, dating, fear—nothing is out of bounds. Bee calls Lainey out repeatedly in the book. “Maybe you’re lonely and you just want to be with someone.” “Maybe this is just about winning.” “I knew you’d pressure me into talking to him, even if I wasn’t ready.” Between lesser friends, these words could come across as hurtful. But Lainey and Bianca trust each other completely, so when Bee has something to say, Lainey takes it to heart, even if she doesn’t want to. These two know when to comfort each other and when to call each other on their crap. For me personally, that’s always been one of the hallmark tests of true friendship. Real friends manage to be both honest and supportive, even when it’s hard.
- They share amazing book-moments.
These girls have friend-chemistry, the same way certain romantic pairings sizzle on the page. I love every scene with them—the ones where Bee teaches Lainey how to interpret The Art of War, the heartfelt phone conversations, the scene closer to the end where Lainey is helping Bee get ready for a date but doesn’t want to slather her up with makeup because she’s perfect just as she is. All of these moments define Lainey and her emotional growth just as much as her scenes with Micah. I know Lainey starts out kind of vapid and clueless and that was intentional. But by the end of the book, she’s learned a lot about love, friendship, and what really matters. Much of that is thanks to her interactions with Bianca.
I try to write stories as they unfold in my brain, letting my characters do and say what they want to do and then gradually shaping their actions into books that (hopefully) work for both my readers and me. I wanted The Art of Lainey to be a very positive, girl-power story, not just another romance. I hope that people find joy in Lainey and Bee’s adventures, and perhaps even think of their own close friendships as they read.
Paula Stokes is half writer, half RN, and totally thrilled to be part of the world of YA literature. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where she graduated from Washington University and the Goldfarb School of Nursing. When she’s not writing, she’s kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. Paula loves interacting with readers! Find her website , Facebook, Pinterest, GoodReads, or on Twitter.
Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.
And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they’re sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few “dates”, it looks like her plan is going to work! But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.
What’s a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you’re meant to be with, if you’re still figuring out the person you’re meant to be?
The Art of Lainey will be released on May 20th, 2014 from Harper Teen.
International Art of Lainey Giveaway!
Thanks to the author, we’re offering up an autographed finished copy of this book to one of our lucky readers! All you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form, and leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re interested in the book and/or what your favorite fictional friendship is.
This giveaway is international, and open to all readers aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. Please see entry form for complete details. Good luck!
Giveaway copy and photos appear courtesy of the author.