I like the way Jennifer Blecher writes, and I’ve enjoyed both of her books. Her debut middle-grade novel, Out of Place features a girl, Cove, who becomes more intensely bullied after her best friend moves away. She schemes to get on a sewing reality show for kids so she can go to New York City where her friend now lives. Stick with Me, Blecher’s sophomore novel is different in many ways. It features two girls, Wren and Izzie, one an ice skater, the other an artist. One is coping with being in a family with a sick sibling, while the other is watching her best friend slip into a friendship with a popular girl (who is also a bully). There’s also a rowdy dog whose name rhymes with “No,” so you can imagine how poorly saying no to him works.
Jennifer and I discuss the similar threads running through both of her books, why she writes for “one reader,” her love for ice skating, why she became a writer, and what she likes to do when she’s not writing. Enjoy!
Hi Jennifer! I enjoyed reading Stick with Me and meeting Wren and Izzy. I absolutely loved the premise of this book, so I have to ask, what inspired you to write about two girls meeting in such a way at a time when they both really needed a friend?
Thanks so much, Afoma! When I started writing Stick With Me I was thinking about how books for this age group often use the term “best friend” as a way to describe a perfect relationship between two characters. But in real life not every kid has a best friend. I wanted to write a book for the kid who doesn’t have a best friend, or who’s recently lost a best friend, to let them know that sometimes the right person will come into your life at the right time and be just what you need. That person might not stay for long, but their impact can last a lifetime.
You write both in this book and in your debut about friendship and bullying. Is there a reason why both of these themes come up often in your work?
Absolutely! I love writing about friendship and bullying because both themes are so complex. What makes a friendship work? What makes a friendship fall apart? What makes a bully choose a certain victim? I’m particularly interested in exploring these themes as they relate to girls because society has a tendency to dismiss conflicts among girls as unnecessary drama or the result of being overly sensitive. But as someone who was seriously bullied during middle school (the barking scene in Out Of Place actually happened to me!), I can tell you that the impact of bullying is very real and the ramifications can last a lifetime. Being able to write about these issues for a wide range of readers is one of the greatest honors of my life.
Izzy is such a sweet girl navigating the change in her friendship with Phoebe. I was so grateful she had a supportive family, especially with Nate. Do you have any siblings? Nate seemed to leap off the page as a realistic older brother.
I have two younger brothers. When they were little I thought they were super annoying, but now they are two of my closest friends. My love for them and the relationship that the three of us have very much inspired Nate. Izzy needed someone in her corner and I’m so glad that Nate was there. Every time he appeared on the page a smile spread across my face.
I really liked Wren. Her determination and commitment to her craft are also inspiring. Do you have any experience with figure skating?
Oh, yes! I was a figure skater growing up and spent hours at the rink every single day. It’s such an amazing sport and being able to write about how Wren felt when she was on the ice, pushing her body, flying through the air, was incredibly fun. Figure skating taught me an enormous amount about discipline, creativity, disappointment, and also how it feels to perform alone. So basically, it prepared me well for life as a writer!
Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get into writing books for children?
I always wanted to do something creative and writing stemmed from my love of reading. I got to a point in my reading life where I’d finish a book and think: I want to write a book like that. It took me years to be able to do it successfully, but I never stopped trying. I started writing children’s books when my oldest daughter was having a hard time finding a book that spoke to her. I decided that since no one knew my daughter better than me, I could be the one to write a book that she would love. One that would keep her turning the pages and tell her at least some of the things that I wanted her to know about life. That mission turned into Out Of Place and it’s still the way I write today – thinking about what my daughters want to read and what I want them to know.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write for just one reader. When I’m writing a rough draft – which for me is messy and hard – I tell myself that the only person in the world who will ever read what I’m working on is one of my daughters. That gives me the courage to push through the difficult parts and keep my critical brain out of the equation.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to read, play tennis, take my dog on long walks, and be with my family. I also love wandering through bookstores and libraries.
Have you read any good middle grade or young adult books recently? I’d love some recommendations.
The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead. I read it twice because I was desperate to figure how Stead worked her magic. Tune It Out by Jamie Summer was lovely. The Prettiest by Brigit Young and Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone were both great girl power books. My older daughter loved Parachutes by Kelly Yang.
Is there something you wished I’d asked you in this interview?
Was Izzy’s dog inspired by any particular dog? The answer is yes! Everything wonderful and naughty about Row was very much inspired by my own dog, Winnie, who is my favorite writing companion.
Thank you so much for doing this, Jen! I hope readers love Wren and Izzy like I did.
Buy Stick with Me
Read more author interviews:
- Claire Swinarski on What Happens Next
- Janae Marks on From the Desk of Zoe Washington
- Jessica Kim on Stand Up, Yumi Chung
- Hena Khan on More to the Story
- Paula Chase on Dough Boys
- Jamie Sumner on Roll with It
About Jennifer Blecher
Jennifer Ende Blecher is the author of OUT OF PLACE and STICK WITH ME, both published by Greenwillow/HarperCollins. She writes contemporary middle grade novels about friendship, family, and growing up. Jennifer lives outside of Boston and on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, three daughters, and a dog named Winnie. Keep up with her on Twitter, Instagram and her website.