Jasmine Warga is the acclaimed author of Other Words for Home, a Newberry Honor book. Warga’s newest middle grade book, The Shape of Thunder is very different from her debut. It’s about two best friends, Cora and Quinn whose friendship stalls when Quinn’s brother kills Cora’s sister in a school shooting. Jasmine and I talk about why she wanted to write about school shootings, the magic of friendship, and writing about grief. I loved this interview and I know you will too. Plus, it comes with free books!
Jasmine is giving away THREE signed copies of her book The Shape of Thunder to THREE winners. You can enter the giveaway at the end of the interview.
Hi Jasmine! I’m over the moon to be chatting with you about The Shape of Thunder (which I read in under 48 hours). What a book, and what a subject matter! Why did you decide to tackle school shootings in this book?
The idea first came to me to want to write a book about this subject when I was struggling to come up with how I was going to my oldest daughter about the fact her elementary school would have lockdown drills. I didn’t know what I was going to say to her. I didn’t have the emotional vocabulary to express how sad I was that this is the world our children are living in. And from this wondering and searching–The Shape of Thunder was born.
Gun violence affects whole communities. Our kids are growing up in a world informed by this trauma. I know it is not an easy thing to talk about, but I believe so much that young people deserve books that reflect their experiences of the world, and this is an issue that is weighing on so many of our kids.
This story is about the aftermath of a school shooting in which the shooter’s brother and the victim’s sister happen to be best friends. My heart broke for Cora and Quinn so many times in this story. Their grief was palpable throughout this story. What helped you to write about grief so raw?
Oh–well thank you. I’m glad the rendering of the grief rang authentic to you. I suppose the first thing is that I’ve experienced a fair amount of grief in my life so I channel those emotions when I write about loss. I always try to put my whole heart onto the page. Readers, especially young readers, can tell when you aren’t being authentic or honest with them.
Cora and Quinn are so different and yet, their bond is almost unbreakable, especially now that their lives are forever interwoven. Why was it important for you to show readers their friendship? And what was your favorite thing to write about Cora and Quinn’s relationship?
Friendships are such foundational relationships when we are young. They are some of the first identity-forming we do outside of our family unit, right? And I wanted to show how Cora and Quinn’s sense of self was shaped by their friendship.
When I was their age, I had a best friendship much like this. My best friend and I were very different, but in some ways we completed each other–we brought out the best in one another. But some of my insecurities were also born out of that friendship because I worried about the ways I lacked in comparison to my friend. I wanted to show all of that in its messy complexity and also render it with tons of love. And that brings me to my favorite thing to write about Cora and Quinn’s relationship which is that love. I loved (sorry! I know I keep using this word, but it’s kind of my favorite word) how their love for one another is its own kind of magic.
Their friendship is able to serve as a bridge from the imperfect past to the infinite potential of the future, and I love that idea. That the love we give to others, and the love we receive, can help us to imagine and form a better future.
I found Quinn’s letters to Parker to be a clever way of letting readers know him. Like anyone would do (like Quinn does), I kept searching in those letters for where things went wrong with him. I’m so curious as to why you included those letters to Parker.
Oh, thank you! You know, the letters started off as a character writing exercise for Quinn. I wanted to get to know her better. And hopefully also uncover a better understanding of Parker. But then once I’d written a bunch of them, I realized that I thought they would be helpful for readers to see, too. Also, I love books that use alternative formats like letters and emails so I guess I was leaning into a device I like as a reader there, too.
I loved seeing you explore Cora’s relationship with Arab culture. Your last middle grade book, Other Words for Home features Jude, a hijab-wearing Arab girl. How similar would you say your relationship to your culture is to Cora’s?
So I’d say my relationship to my culture when I was a young person was somewhere between Jude’s and Cora’s, but certainly more similar to Cora’s. I didn’t feel as disconnected as she does, but I certainly had those moments of feeling not Arab enough when I was around other Arabs, and “too” (this is obviously a misguided and problematic feeling) Arab when I was at my predominantly white school. It’s taken me a while to understand that my identity doesn’t have to feel like a tug of war, that I can be a multitude of things, and that there is beauty in the hyphenated.
There’s quite a bit of science, trivia, and time travel discourse in this book and it seems well-researched! Do you enjoy the research process?
I do! I’m a total nerd. I’m personally completely riveted by the magic of science so I love reading all types of scientific articles. I’m a lot like Cora in that way–a collector of facts, for sure.
You’ve written young adult books and a middle grade novel-in-verse. Your language is always so beautiful to read. Do you have plans to return to YA, or do you feel like you’ve found your groove in middle grade?
Thank you so much! I’m a huge lover of language. I love playing around with the order of words, constantly trying to figure out the best melody to say exactly what it is that I want to say, and to gift the reader a certain feeling.
Right now, I don’t have any plans to return to YA, but I’m definitely not ruling it out–I just don’t have any active YA projects. I’m hard at work on my next middle grade novel, which has required lots of fun research since it’s about (and narrated by!) a Mars Rover. I’m so excited for all of you to meet Res! They might be my favorite character I’ve ever written. <3.
I love hearing your daughters’ funny expressions when you share them on Twitter. What is your most cherished part about being a parent?
Awww, yay! I’m so glad you enjoy hearing those snippets. They say the most amazing things. Really my most cherished part of being a parent is just getting to bear witness to their creativity, imagination, and curiosity. The way they ponder about words, emotions, and the world–it’s so beautiful and inspiring. And I feel the same way about the young people who are my readers.
Which wonderful books (middle grade or not) have you read recently?
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get an early read of Mariama Lockington’s next MG novel, which is coming out next year called In the Key of Us. It’s exquisite. If you love beautiful language, you will love this book. Mariama is one of my very favorite writers working in the MG space.
Right now, I’m also reading an adult novel–The Arsonist’s City. A good friend lent it to me and told me I would love it, and they were so right. The language is STUNNING. It’s a multi-generational epic about an Arab family. I hope lots of people will pick it up.
Thank you so much for your time, Jasmine!
Enter the giveaway below. We’ll be choosing THREE winners. US Only!a Rafflecopter giveaway
Buy The Shape of Thunder
About Jasmine Warga
Jasmine Warga is the author of the New York Times bestseller Other Words For Home. Other Words For Home earned multiple awards, including a John Newbery Honor, a Walter Honor for Young Readers, and a Charlotte Huck Honor. She is also the author of young adult books, My Heart and Other Black Holes and Here We Are Now, which have been translated into over twenty different languages. The Shape of Thunder, her next novel for middle grade readers, will be published in May 2021. Originally from Cincinnati, she now lives in the Chicago-area with her family.