Today I'm featuring THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE, a contemporary YA about a teenage boy having to deal with self-esteem issues and his mother's mental illness.
"[...] sometimes what's real isn't pretty and what's pretty isn't always real." This line is one of the last lines in the novel, but I wanted to kick-off with it because it encapsulates what this novel is to me. Charlie's a budding photographer, and at the outset, he judges people and situations mainly on appearances. He thinks that just because he lost thirty pounds at summer camp, people are going to view him differently and he'll have a good year, maybe even catch the attention of pretty new girl Charlotte. His character arc is about learning that in photography and in life, you need to dig deeper than the surface.
So yes, basically this novel gets real - and it isn't always pretty. I cringed at many of Charlie's thoughts - how he judged others as losers to make himself feel superior. And some of the things he does in the name of trying to fit in - such as an incident with a pot brownie - are inexcusable, but completely believable. The incredibly honest portrayal of teen life - zits and all - is arguably the book's strongest selling point.
And now it's time to chat with the book's author. Welcome Jenny!
There’s this snow scene between Charlie and Charlotte, where Charlie asks Charlotte what they really are (friends, more than friends, etc.). Charlie puts himself out there even though he knows he’s about to be crushed. Charlotte puts herself out there even though she knows Charlie won’t understand her. Both of them are trying, both of them are vulnerable, both of them are painstakingly incapable of expressing what they truly want to say, and you have this sense that there’s a missed opportunity here. It’s so true, I think, to human interaction. To the way we think we’re communicating with someone, but we’re really not. It’s sad, but beautiful at the same time. Those kinds of scenes are my favorite to write.
I love scenes like that too. What is your favorite line in the book?
“I don’t know how you can see something before it’s actually there, but you can.”
This is the first line of the book and really such a good summary of a lot of what’s going on. There’s a lot of lying in this book, a lot of deceit, a lot of things appearing to be something they’re not, and a lot of things just not being right. I find that usually when this is the case in real life, we kind of already know it. Even if we don't have proof of lies, even if things appear okay, we all have that instinct, something inside of us that alerts us to a certain “something” before it comes to light. Sometimes…most times, we ignore it. But we know it’s there.
What setting was most fun to write?
I really didn’t want to use the same answer, but truthfully, the snow scene. Because it so perfectly sets the mood for the scene between Charlie and Charlotte. Nights like this, of first snow falls, are beautiful, and I love this image of Charlie laying there as snow falls on him, heartbroken, crushed, in this beautiful, most perfect setting with this most imperfect girl whom he can’t help but be falling in love with.
Who is your favorite supporting character - one you could see getting a spin-off book - and why?
Hands down, Ahmed because he’s quirky and funny and has a general who gives a damn attitude. I had a lot of fun writing scenes with him in them. He’s the polar opposite of Charlie and his family and really balances things out and brings a lot of humor to what are otherwise not so fun or funny situations. I also like the way Ahmed was so impulsive from the beginning that many times I had no idea what he was going to say or how he was going to act until the very moment I was typing the words onto the screen.
Ahmed is definitely memorable! What has been your favorite part of your publishing journey so far?
I think it was what I call my “Jo March” moment. I wrote all about it in this blog post
but basically it was the moment I received my first pass pages in a big envelope in the mail. I’d always had this fantasy of receiving my manuscript in the mail and opening it and seeing my story, there, in print. And then it happened, just as I imagined, and it was a very cool, very special moment for me.
THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE is available in paperback now. Find out more about it and read the first chapter at the author's website.
FTC disclosure: I was sent a copy of this novel for review by the author's agent.