Which is the perfect segue to her completely brilliant, riveting, painful, hilarious new YA novel, "The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen." Gradually the reader learns why Henry's life has been upended, why his family had to move, how he deals with a pair of weird neighbors, makes friends, and deals with bullies... through the journal that he's writing because his therapist thinks writing in it will help him.
Susin got her start writing a spec script for the TV show Degrassi Junior High. She's also a multi-award winning author of YA novels who broke out with "Word Nerd" (a nerdy kid gets high on scrabble...) Followed by "Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom" (daughter tries to match her divorced mom up with George Clooney.)
Her books have raked in starred reviews and awards.
But frankly I was not prepared for the power of her new book. It left me breathless, crying, and cheering.
Welcome, Susin! You seem to specialize in writing fantastic nerdy kids and I know you wrote journals when YOU were a kid. So those two things seem to have come together in this new book.
SUSIN NIELSEN: I didn’t really realize how closely my own young self
paralleled my nerdy protagonists
[HALLIE: Susin is the kid in the front row, the only one wearing a long, colorful skirt]
until after “Word Nerd” was published.
A lot of people asked me, “How did you come up with this friendless nerd Ambrose who, in spite of being kind of lonely, has a real glass half-full attitude? I truly didn’t know the answer – till I came across boxes of my old journals tucked away in the garage. I found the first diary I ever kept.
This paragraph was particularly revealing:
We just moved a few months ago. I don’t have any friends. Oh, well. My cat’s a friend, and so’s my doll, Raggedy Anne. She’s real to me. I have lots of stuffed animals. I have sea monkeys but they’re not fully grown yet. I don’t have a dad. My cat’s name is Mississippi.
I suddenly realized: I was Ambrose!
I’m very drawn to underdogs, most definitely. Violet (in “Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom”) is probably closest to me when I was that age.
With Henry (in “The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen”) I took things to a darker place, giving him a horrific tragedy to deal with. I got the idea while I was reading “The Hour I First Believed” by Wally Lamb. He places a character in the real-life horror of the Columbine shootings. There was a line in the book that mentioned that one of the shooters had a brother.
That was like a punch in the gut for me – I had never, ever paused to think about what it must be like for the surviving sibling of a boy who’s committed an irrevocable act of violence.
But back to those diaries: They were a revelation in so many ways. Especially this paragraph – the very first paragraph I ever wrote in a diary. It reads:
This is the first day I’ve really written in a diary. The reason I am is ‘cause I LOVE writing stories, and if I do grow up to be a famous writer, and later die, and they want to get a story of my life, I guess I should keep a diary.
Phew! I love the arrogance of it – but I also love that I knew what I wanted to do when I was eleven!
I love writing for the middle-grade/YA set. I don’t know why I can tap in to that head-space. I do feel a part of my own brain stopped growing at about age 13. Also I did write for a lot of teen and tween TV shows, like “Degrassi Junior High,” in my other life as a television writer.
My latest manuscript is called “We Are All Made of Molecules.” For the first time ever I also have a US publisher! Tundra publishes me in Canada, and they and Wendy Lamb in the States will publish “Molecules” simultaneously in Spring 2015. Argh, the waiting’s gonna kill me.
HALLIE: So excited for you, Susan! Because there is a huge audience for US editions of your books.
So Susin will be checking in today, joining our conversation. Were you a nerdy kid, too, and do you still find yourself channeling your inner nerd??