Monday, August 14, 2017

Author Interview: Things That Surprise You

I had the wonderful opportunity to read an advanced reader copy of THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU, a new middle grade contemporary from Jennifer Maschari, the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price. This story of sisters, friends, and family is bursting with heart. It’s an important novel for middle schoolers searching to find their own way. Here’s the synopsis:  

Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. She’s sort of excited, though not as much as her best friend, Hazel, who is ready for everything to be new. Emily wishes she and Hazel would just continue on as they always have, being the biggest fans ever of the Unicorn Chronicles, making up dance moves, and getting their regular order at the Slice.

But things are changing. At home, Emily and her mom are learning to move on after her parents’ divorce. Hardest of all, her beloved sister, Mina, has been in a treatment facility to deal with her anorexia. Emily is eager to have Mina back but anxious about her sister getting sick again.

Hazel is changing, too. She has new friends from the field hockey team, is starting to wear makeup, and has crushes on boys. Emily is trying to keep up, but she keeps doing and saying the wrong things. She wants to be the perfect new Em. But who is that really?

Author Jen Maschari was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book, which will hit shelves on August 22:

Jen, can you tell Middle Grade Minded readers a bit about your inspiration for this book? Did you go through any of Em’s family/friendship issues when you were in middle school?

I knew I wanted to write a story about sisters and also the difficult years of middle school. In some ways, I feel like I’ve never left middle school. I write about it, and I am currently a 7th and 8th grade teacher! I did go through some of the same friend issues Emily faced. I was not part of the group that was considered “cool” and I remember those middle school years being pretty tough (especially my 8th grade year). But like Emily, I also found friends who were the right fit: people who accepted and valued me for who I was.

I loved the metaphor of Em’s science project, showing the movement of the changing Earth over time as it connected with the shifts in Emily’s own life. Did you think of this correlation ahead of time, or did it evolve as you drafted the novel?

Thank you Stefanie! This correlation definitely came later as I worked my way into the story. Maybe it appeared in draft three? The heart of this story was always the same – the bond between sisters and finding out who you are – but the story itself changed dramatically during revisions. It started as a camp story (spoiler: there’s no camp anywhere in the finished book) but evolved into a book about facing all kinds of change. I’ve always been fascinated with science and thought the evolution of the changing Earth and Emily’s journey went well together. (and, growing up, I loved school projects so I thought it would be fun to put one in the book)

Your debut, The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, received a starred review from School Library Journal. What was the road to publication like for your second novel? How was it different/similar from your first book?

The writing of this book was very difficult. Between drafts two and three, I scrapped all but approximately 12 pages. It was daunting but needed to be done; it resulted in a much better story! With CHARLIE, I was writing that on my own time, while teaching. With THINGS I worked faster, but I sometimes didn’t allow myself the necessary thinking time I needed in the early drafting stage to work out plot and character knots. I learned a lot of good lessons from writing a second book that I will hopefully apply to my third!

Thanks so much, Jen!

To order Things That Surprise You, go here:

To learn more about Jen, go to:



Jen M. said...

Thank you so much for interviewing me Stefanie! I really enjoyed answering your questions.

Unknown said...

It was my pleasure!! Loved your book!