I’m super jazzed to introduce you to Rachele Alpine, author of CANARY, a book that explores the serious issue of speaking out about sexual assault. It follows Kate, a young woman whose father has just been hired as the basketball coach of Beacon Prep, an elite private school with a prestigious reputation to uphold. At first, Kate is welcomed into the upper crust of Beacon culture, but she soon finds herself forced to speak out about an event that takes place at a party. At the same time, she’s battling drama at home, too. Her beloved mom has died from cancer and Kate misses her deeply, her brother hates Beacon and all it represents, and her dad is too wrapped up in his new job to pay attention to what’s really going on with Kate.
I found CANARY to be a fast-paced book that features one of the most realistic brother and sister relationships I’ve ever read in young adult fiction. Something else that makes it stand out is that it incorporates Kate’s poems as blog posts into a traditional narrative. So cool!
Hi, Rachele! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Can you tell us a little about how CANARY came to be published?
CANARY actually started as a project I did in undergrad about twelve years ago. I was an education major, and we had to research a topic that was a problem in schools or among teenagers. I chose sexual harassment and assault. Instead of presenting the findings in a standard research, my teacher had us create a multi-genre paper. This is a more creative way of sharing your work by using poetry, short stories, pictures, song lyrics, comments and other artistic elements. One of the poems in my piece told that story about a girl who was afraid to speak up about what was going on in her school. It was this poem that stuck with me and I kept going back to year after year. When I sat down to write CANARY, I went back to this poem as inspiration. The coolest thing is that the poem ended up in the final copy of the book.
Wow, how amazing that must have been to have that poem as a seed of creativity, and then it ended up in the novel, too. I loved how CANARY alternated between standard prose and Kate’s blog posts written in verse. Was it difficult to switch back and forth between the two writing styles?
I didn’t set out to write the story like this; it ended up finding me. If you pay attention to a lot of the blog posts they are written when Kate is her most private or dealing with situations that are very difficult. I tried writing these as scenes many, many times, but I was having a lot of trouble putting Kate’s feelings into words. Everything I wrote didn’t sound true enough or over emotional. As I said, the book was inspired by a poem, and I continued to go back to that first poem and how well it expressed everything. I tried to write the scenes I was having trouble with into poems, and it just clicked. The story I was trying to tell came out, which created the format of telling the story in a mix of prose and verse.
Very cool. I had a question about Kate’s mom, who has passed away before the main narrative of the book begins. The loss of Kate’s mom to cancer has a huge impact on the family – it almost seems like the catalyst for all the events that transpire in the book. We never meet Kate’s mom except through flashbacks. Was it difficult to create this character? Why or why not?
It wasn’t difficult to create Kate’s mom, because even though she’s passed away when the book starts, she is still so present in the story. Kate is yearning to talk about her and remember her. Part of what makes Kate’s relationship with her dad so sad is that he’s unable to talk about her mom and show his true feelings. Kate needs to hold onto the memories of her mother, so she isn’t forgotten by everyone.
Speaking of family, something I loved about this book was how it portrayed a complex but realistic relationship between a brother and sister. Tell us a little about that. Did you ever think of making Kate’s sibling a sister instead of a brother?
Kate’s relationship with her brother is my favorite part of the book. I love Brett and who he is and what he stands for. I don’t think that he could have been a sister, because he represents everything that the Beacon athlete doesn’t. Kate and Brett’s new school (and their father) exalt the basketball players. Kate becomes part of this crowd, but Brett rejects it from the start. He’s important because he shows how the school treats someone when he/she doesn’t subscribe to their way of thinking. The school essentially turns on Brett.
This book focuses on the very important issue of sexual assault. What do you hope teenage readers will learn from reading the book? Were you at all inspired by any other books that have touched on this topic?
I didn’t channel any specific book when I was writing CANARY, but I think my book is an important one much in the same way as Daisy Whitney’s THE MOCKINGBIRDS. CANARY looks at sexual assault in a different way, much like Daisy Whitney did. I feel like her book is important for teens to read because it deals with a sexual assault when alcohol was involved and discusses what consent is. I hope CANARY raises awareness in the same way and influences readers with its message of speaking up, no matter how hard it might be to tell the truth.
Rachele, thanks so much for chatting with us about CANARY. Finally, as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.
Some of the books I loved (and read over and over again) as a kid that inspired me were anything and everything by Judy Blume, WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn, and CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White.
Rachele Alpine is a lover of sushi, fake mustaches, and Michael Jackson. One of her first jobs was at a library, but it didn’t last long, because all she did was hide in the third-floor stacks and read. Now she’s a little more careful about when and where she indulges her reading habit. By day she’s a high school English teacher, and by night she writes with the companionship of the world’s cutest dog, Radley, a big cup of coffee, and a full bag of gummy peaches. Rachele lives with her husband in Cleveland, Ohio, but dreams of moving back to Boston, the city she fell in love with while attending graduate school there. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest!
|Jennifer Mathieu is a writer and English teacher who lives in Houston with her husband, son, dog, and two cats. A former newspaper journalist and East Coast native, Jennifer loves to eat but hates to cook. Her YA debut, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in June 2014.|