Today we’re interviewing Lucky13 author Sara Polsky, whose debut novel THIS IS HOW I FIND HER hits the shelves this week.
This is How I Find Her (Albert Whitman) is about 16-year-old Sophie, who has always lived her life in the shadow of her mother’s bipolar disorder: monitoring medication, making sure the rent is paid, rushing home after school instead of spending time with friends, and keeping secrets from everyone.
But when a suicide attempt lands Sophie’s mother in the hospital, Sophie no longer has to watch over her. She moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousin—a family she’s been estranged from for the past five years. Rolling her suitcase across town to her family’s house is easy. What’s harder is figuring out how to rebuild her life.
What was the piece of this story that first inspired you? Was it an image, a character, or an idea?
A character, or rather the relationship between two characters —
Sophie, the main character, and her cousin, Leila. They were best
friends as children but aren’t speaking by the time the book begins.
That was all I knew about them when I first had the idea for This Is
How I Find Her, and as I worked my way backward to their personalities
and their families, I figured out the rest of the story.
What kind of research did you do to write This Is How I Find Her?
As a writer I’m interested in emotions, and memoirs are one way to get
close to how people feel about a particular situation, so I read a lot
of memoirs by people who had experienced bipolar disorder or
depression, or by people whose parents had had mental illnesses. I
also read some of the more straightforward guides to bipolar disorder
for patients and families, which helped me with some of the technical
details about medications, hospital stays, etc.
This Is How I Find Her deals with some difficult subjects, including
mental illness and suicide. What do you hope young-adult readers will
learn from this book, or how do you hope the book will affect them?
I write mostly to explore my own questions — in this case, about
topics like family and home and how to be there for loved ones who are
dealing with mental illnesses. I hope that readers with similar
questions will find some answers or comfort or sense of connection in
In This Is How I Find Her, it’s not the protagonist who has the
illness. Why did you chose this perspective?
I knew from the beginning that it would be Sophie’s mother, Amy, who
had bipolar disorder and Sophie who was taking care of her and seeing
her experience from the outside. That was always the story I wanted to
tell — I wanted to explore the way mental illness affects families
and friendships and the complicated emotions that Amy’s suicide
attempt raises for Sophie and her relatives.
Your protagonist, Sophie, is an artist. How did that affect her
characterization? How did it affect the voice and your use of
I knew from the earliest drafts that Sophie’s mother would be an
artist, so I liked the idea of Sophie being an artist, too — it would
be something they shared aside from Amy’s illness. It was also
something that made Sophie easier to write. She’s a character who
spends a lot of time in her own head, and her artist’s perspective on
the world meant that her head was a visually interesting, imaginative
place to be (at least, I hope that’s what readers think!). As I
revised, I went back to the descriptions again and again to make sure
Sophie was using her artist’s eye all the time.
What was your biggest challenge in writing This Is How I Find Her?
It was challenging to write a character who is detached and closed off
the way Sophie is at the beginning of the book. There isn’t a lot of
dialogue early in the story, and Sophie tended to shut down any time a
conversation became revealing or personal. Making her an artist helped
with this, since it gave her more reason to observe the world around
her, and I also relied on flashbacks to show a happier, more open time
in Sophie’s life.
And 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:
The book that jumps to mind first when I think about books I loved as
a kid is Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. (I loved the whole series,
but that book was my favorite.) I ended up majoring in medieval
history and literature in college, so I also look back on TDiR as the
book that started me down a whole path of reading Arthurian legends
and books about the kings and queens of England and eventually
studying things like manuscript handwriting and Latin and Welsh (aka
the coolest college major ever). Other authors I read a lot of:
Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Cynthia Voigt, and Ann Rinaldi.
Thanks for stopping by, Sara, and congrats on your debut!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sara is a writer and editor at Curbed NY, and her articles and essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Forward, Poets & Writers, and other publications. Her fiction has appeared in Fictitious Force and Behind the Wainscot. She lives in New York City.
This interview was conducted by OneFour member Rebecca Behrens, and is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Lucky13s —- YA, MG, and children’s book authors debuting in 2013.
|Rebecca Behrens lives in New York, where she works as a production editor. Her favorite things are em-dashes, Central Park, running, and doughnuts. Her MG debut, WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE (Sourcebooks; February 4th, 2014), tells what happens when a lonely first daughter finds Alice Roosevelt’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of a White House closet.|