Monday, March 27, 2023

Author Interview: Jaime Berry, author of HEART FINDS

Heart Finds is such a fabulous book!

As soon as I finished the book - which I read in one sitting because it was such a good book - I knew I needed to talk about with author Jaime Berry!

And now of course I need to go back and read her debut novel, HOPE SPRINGS!

About The Book:

Eleven-year-old Mabel Cunningham is a quiet loner who only feels free to be herself when she's "extreme treasure hunting" with her grampa—much to her perfectionist mother's disapproval. Nothing excites Mabel more than discovering a heart find, an item that calls to her heart, and the maybes that come along with it.

But when her friendships start to crumble and her grampa suffers a stroke, Mabel quickly learns that real-life maybes are harder to handle than imagined ones. Desperate to change things back to the way they were, Mabel devises a plan that she believes will fix everything. Except bringing her plan to fruition means lying to her grampa and disappointing her mother.

Will Mabel learn that letting go of the past doesn’t mean letting go of her grampa and that embracing the future might be one of her most important heart finds yet?

The Interview

1.     Hi Jaime! Congratulations on writing such a fantastic book! You had me hooked from the very first line: “My grampa always says the best treasures are the ones that hide in plain sight.” It’s a genius first line, because it lays out exactly what your story is about, both thematically and plot-wise! Was it the book’s first line from the get-go?


Thank you so much, Wendy! That first line came about after many, many revisions and I’m so happy it drew you in. First lines are so hard, aren’t they? And finding one that hinted at the theme and my main character’s journey took several tries. I loved my original first line, but it wasn’t doing the work a really good opening line needs to do, so I think it’s now buried in the beginning of Chapter 3. But as Mabel learns some changes are necessary and sometimes even better in the end.


2.     I love the term heart finds — as soon as I read it, it resonated with me: that feeling of connection with a person, a place or thing that is so visceral it can’t be denied. But you play with the theme beautifully in the book, because sometimes we don’t recognize something in front of us as being a heart find straight away. Has that been your experience, too?


Absolutely, yes. In the first draft I was calling them “amazing finds” and it just wasn’t specific enough. I have my editor, Sam Gentry, to thank for pushing me to really think about what I was trying to get across—that sense of connection that resonates in one’s heart. The main character, Mabel, is sort of a lonely kid, and I wanted that term “heart finds” to hint at what she was really searching for, more connections that made her heart hum, and not just to places or things, but most especially to people who loved her exactly as she is.


3.     The main character Mabel is caught in the middle between her single parent mom and her beloved grandfather at the same time she is navigating the politics of middle school. Mabel is a quirky girl, an old soul, who you know is going to grow up to be the most interesting person in the room. But those kinds of kids often struggle in middle school and high school. How challenging was it to write the truth about a girl who colors outside the lines?


Having been a kid who often didn’t fit in and didn’t fully understand the social complexities of middle school, I feel Mabel and I might be kindred spirits. Getting to know my main character is normally something I figure out as I go, but Mabel came to me fairly easily. I felt I knew her well before I even started writing, but I found feeling that close to a character to be a bit tricky. There were certain scenes that were difficult to write! I almost felt guilty creating moments that I knew would hurt her, but also were necessary to force her growth and push her toward finding people who appreciated her uniqueness. 



4.     When Grampa gets sick, Mabel’s world is up-ended, a common experience for kids the age of your readers. Your write so movingly about this – did you go through something similar when you were young?


I was very close to my grandmother—this book is dedicated to her. She was unruly, funny, creative, and sure of herself. When we spent time together, that self-assuredness was contagious. She made me feel like I was her absolute favorite person in the whole world, and she was definitely mine. She passed away when I was a teenager and it was really difficult to figure out how to find my way back to that feeling without her. I think it’s also worth mentioning that I wrote a majority of Mabel’s story during the height of the pandemic—another time in my life when I felt, along with many others I imagine, completely off balance and uncertain of what the future held. I hope people who read the book come away with the message that when we’re knocked off our feet as Mabel is, it’s okay to struggle and make mistakes as we get back up.


5.     Mabel’s relationship with her mother evolves during the book, and we come to have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the character. While Mabel is caught between her mother and her grandfather, we realize the unfair position they’ve both put her in at times. It’s not something you see enough of in books, how kids are often victims of issues between parents and grandparents. Was that important for you to portray this?


You’re right, it’s not something we see very often in middle grade. In my experience, even the best of family relationships is complicated, and kids are often caught in the middle. Through the course of the book Mabel gains a deeper understanding of her mother’s relationship with Grampa and she learns that she’s misjudged them both a bit—Grampa isn’t entirely blameless, and her mom isn’t entirely to blame. One of the things Mabel says about scavenging for finds with Grampa is that it can be hard to figure out what to hold on to and what to let go—relationships can be that way too in a sense. But by the end of the book, I think they’ve all figured out a way to let go of a few things, to do a better job loving each other, and come to understand that maybe their most valuable heart finds are one another.


6.     When can we expect another Jaime Berry book?


I wish I knew! I’ve just finished up a draft of another tug-at-your-heart, contemporary middle grade—it’s still far away from having a specific publication date. But I feel so very grateful and lucky to get to write books for kids and can’t wait to get the next one into reader’s hands! Thank you so much for this opportunity to chat about HEART FINDS.

You are so welcome!

Want to learn more about Jaime Berry? Visit her beautiful website here!