Today we have a real treat from the author of RUBY LEE & ME, Scholastic 2016, and THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, namelos 2013. Shannon Hitchcock has chosen the GROG for her cover reveal of ONE TRUE WAY, her newest middle grade historical fiction. Advanced Review Copies aren't available until July and the book drops late February, 2018, so this is your exclusive look unless you are lucky enough to score an ARC. (Look for a review from me by summer's end.)
Like her highly regarded RUBY LEE & ME, ONE TRUE WAY is historical fiction mixed with some true-to-life elements from Shannon's own life. For me, this mixture of elements creates a highly accessible view into history that tugs at the heart. For this novel, Shannon delves into the "climate in 1977" as Anita Bryant's SAVE OUR CHILDREN campaign traveled the country with messages to deny equal rights to homosexuals. You Tube clips of Bryant's speeches are a great introduction to set the scene for this book, according to Shannon.
A Conversation with the Author
Together, Shannon and I discussed ONE TRUE WAY and her inspiration for the book via email. As you peruse this interview, you will notice how cognizant Shannon was of her audience's maturity level. (This former school librarian appreciates that and her dedication to research when writing historical fiction.)
K: What was your inspiration for this novel?
S: I got the idea for writing ONE TRUE WAY at the 2014 National Council of Teachers of English Convention. As I listened to a diversity panel, the moderator spoke about the lack of middle grade books dealing with homosexuality. There are picture books, think HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES, AND TANGO MAKES THREE, and of course in YA literature, authors like David Levithan, Bill Konigsberg, Benjamin Alire Saenz, and Becky Albertalli have written beautiful books, but at that time, there were very few books available in the Middle Grade realm. The moderator went on to praise Tim Federle’s novel, BETTER NATE THAN EVER, and as she spoke, I made a note to read Tim’s book. Tim had found a way to write about a gay character for a middle grade audience, and I wanted to do the same.
K: What personal experiences did you draw upon to create this story?
S: I was drawn to the topic for a very personal reason. When we were in our early twenties, my best friend came out to me. I have never been more shocked in my life. Prior to that, I thought I had no prejudice toward gay individuals, but when it struck so close to home, it was a different matter entirely. I had to let go of “my dreams.” I had had dreams of someday vacationing together, my friend and her husband, and me with mine, of being godmothers to each other’s children, of a future that would now look different than the one I had imagined. Finally, my husband said to me, “You are making this all about YOU, and it’s not. You have a choice to make: you either have a best friend who is gay, or you don’t have a best friend anymore.” After that the answer was crystal clear. My friend was just fine, but I needed to change. All these years later, I am still ashamed of my initial reaction.
S: After NCTE, my first order of business was to read BETTER NATE THAN EVER. I adore Tim’s book, but could never have written it. Tim Federle is hysterically funny, and well, that’s not my strength. So I looked at my two prior books, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, and RUBY LEE & ME. Those books hold the key to who I am as a writer. My modus operandi is to use history and write about a girl who lived in that time period, to explore how history affected her. I write simple, heartfelt stories. That’s what I do.
K: How does Allie's story fit into middle grade?
S: There is a huge difference in writing about homosexuality from a Middle Grade perspective. Probably the biggest is there is no sex. ONE TRUE WAY is about a first crush. I pitched it to Scholastic this way, “From the moment Allie Drake meets Samantha Johnson at Daniel Boone Middle School, she knows there is something special between them. But Allie never knew a first crush could be so wonderful…or cause so many problems.”
K: Tell us more.
S: Allie loves being around Sam. Her heart beats faster, she can’t wait for the phone to ring, she wants to hold her hand. It’s innocent and exciting, but the problems ensue when Allie’s mom finds out about her same sex crush. The feelings are the same whether the crush is between two girls, two boys, or a boy and a girl. The difference is in the way the adults around them react to it. One of my favorite lines in the book is when Allie says to her mom, “If I’m not too young to have feelings for a boy, then I’m not too young to have feelings for a girl.” I think this is very true, but we as children’s writers have tended to steer clear for obvious reasons.
K: Are there more books you can recommend on this topic?
S: Since that fateful session at NCTE, several Middle Grade books dealing with homosexuality have either been published or acquired. In addition to ONE TRUE WAY, be on the lookout for STAR-CROSSED by Barbara Dee, P.S. I MISS YOU by Jen Petro-Roy, and HURRICANE CHILD by Kheryn Callender.
K: Any parting words for us?
S: I have no way of knowing how ONE TRUE WAY will be received, but I’m reminded of a quote from MG author, Donna Gephart, “Being brave doesn’t mean we’re not afraid. It means we are afraid, but choose to do what feels right anyway. I promise to keep writing bravely. If you promise to keep sharing books bravely. Together, we’ll make this world a kinder, gentler, more inclusive place.”
I hope GROG readers have enjoyed this cover reveal and a peek
into Shannon's newest novel. I know I've been inspired by both Shannon and Donna! Stay tuned after our summer hiatus, for my review of ONE TRUE WAY! The last GROG post will be June 29, 2017, when our own Patricia Toth is interviewed about her newest picture book, ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS.
For more on Shannon Hitchcock, find her on twitter here, her blog here, and check out Patty Toth's post on RUBY LEE.