I’ve said this is the year of the cute contemporary in YA…but it’s also the year of another important genre, the YA thriller! I’ve read a lot of thrillers, and for some reason it’s not often that I find YA ones that keep me engaged. But this year there have been some really terrific suspense novels for teens, including this sure-footed debut.
Pretending to Be Erica is about a girl who’s seen it all, done it all, and is planning on conning everyone around her. You see how she’s been raised since childhood to deceive and swindle, you see how she’s calculating the best way to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune and suffering. And yet because the narrative voice is so terrific, and because the plot is so surprisingly plausible for the most part and well-executed, you’re invested in her story. I enjoyed this one from start to finish, and I think most mystery lovers will, too.
As part of the book’s official blog tour, the author’s here with us today to talk about authentic voice in YA fiction. All I can say is, she totally nailed it in Pretending to be Erica.
As a young adult writer, it’s so incredibly important to be aware of your audience. It’s far too easy to write a book that isn’t contemporary, or doesn’t ring true with the current struggles teens are facing. A lot of problems – fitting in, standing out, learning to be yourself – are universal problems that never really go away as you grow up. But I’ve realized, now that I’m nearing 25 and am basically an old lady, there are some things that’re harder to understand the further I get away from them. A lot of YA authors solve this by clinging to their faint memories of high school, and I feel like this could breed a disingenuous style of writing, since our memories tend to be laced with nostalgia. Our brains love to shade the past in rosy colors, and as we all know, being a teenager isn’t rosy at all. Sometimes it’s great, but most of the time it’s the complete opposite of rosy. Which is what makes it so fun to write – challenges and heartbreak is where growth happens, and the most interesting characters are the ones who we get to see change as they experience more and more. But those experiences have to be authentic, instead of minuscule or contrived, otherwise they don’t mean much at all. (I’m looking at you, fabricated overdramatic YA love triangles!)
As a writer I constantly worry about authenticity – that is, how to capture and recapture the complicated voice of my teenage years over and over again. It’s easy to forget how hard it was growing up when you aren’t going through it day by day. The YA books I connect with always have a great grasp on the emotions and feelings of what it’s like to be a teenager, and I think some authors just excel at it more than others. In order to be more like them, I’ve been digging through my old journals. I had a long running one on Xanga (I’m so old) that gathered some infamy in my high school, and it’s so fun (and embarrassing, and painful, and great) to go back and read through my struggles, painted vividly by anger and confusion and ecstasy. But relying on memories only gets you so far, and can be dangerous and unhealthy. It’s not always the best to rely on one perspective, which is why I go to my teenage nieces for advice/authentication. They’re so helpful for telling me what words sound weird or outdated, though by the time a book comes out, most slang in it will be outdated by three years or so! It usually takes 2+ years for a book to go through all the editing and marketing stages before it’s ready to be released, which sometimes causes huge discrepancies in slang and voice, and it’s really unfortunate.
On top of that, teen readers are so sharp and self-aware that it’s hard to get anything past them if it doesn’t sound real or true. I love hearing from teenage readers. Or any readers! But teenage readers always bring a unique, refreshing, and down-to-earth practical perspective that I appreciate hugely. Whether it be a review or a tweet, teens absolutely one hundred percent know what works and what doesn’t. I hope and pray other YA authors don’t underestimate them or simplify them, but I’ve heard complaints from teenagers that a lot of books do! It’s so easy for a writer to simplify what they don’t know, or dumb it down in order to squeeze under the radar of editors and agents who are equally out of touch with what it’s like to be younger. And that’s why I try so hard. That’s why I worry so much. And I hope it shows.
Thank you so much for having me!
Erica Silverman was abducted at the age of four. She was snatched outside of her kindergarten and never seen again. Violet was adopted by her con artist father for a single purpose: to become the long-lost heiress of the mythical Silverman painting. Violet has only ever been groomed for this moment. But what Violet doesn’t count on is how much she comes to care about the Silvermans, as well as the friends she’s made under false pretense. Walking a razor’s edge, calculating every decision, not sure sometimes who she is or what she is doing it for, Violet is an unforgettable heroine.Pretending to Be Erica will be released on July 21, 2015.About Michelle PainchaudMichelle Painchaud was born in Seattle, but grew up gate-crashing parties in sugar cane fields in Hawaii. Cats and anime take up what little part of her brain isn’t harassed by stories of teenagers kicking ass. This is her first novel. She lives in San Diego, CA.
Win a copy of Pretending to Be Erica!
Thanks to our friends at Viking Books for Young Readers, we have a copy of the book to give away. We’re going to keep this one simple–to enter, all you have to do is:
1. Leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re excited to read the book.
2. Leave an email address (or link with contact) where you can be reached.
***Bonus*** Tweet about the giveaway in your own words (or use the suggested copy below) and come back to leave the link to your tweet! You may do this once a day to earn further entries through 8/3/15.
Suggested Twitter copy:
Guess what? She’s probably conning you. Win YA thriller PRETENDING TO BE ERICA at The Midnight Garden! www.themidnightgarden.net/pretendingtobeerica
Open to US residents (and possibly Canadian as well, please check back for an update!) aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. Please see our giveaway rules for complete details. Giveaway closes end of day Monday, August 3rd, 2015. Good luck!
Giveaway and review copies were provided by the publisher.
Our thanks to Michelle for being our guest!