March 21, 2005

Three Questions: E. Lockhart

I talk about a LOT of books on this site, because, you know, I READ. All the freaking time. Sometimes I talk about books I LOVED, sometimes I talk about books I LOATHED, and sometimes I talk about books that aren't even out yet or that I haven't read or even ones that I probably will not read because, I don't know, they have SPIES in them. Spies leave me so cold I get practically clammy. I hate gadgets and international intrigue and I think the FILTHIEST word in the English language is POLITICS.

If a book or writer is getting buzz, I may link to it so you can scope it out and see if it is your cuppa, but I won't say I READ THIS AND LOVED IT, unless, you know, I've read it. And loved it. THAT SAID:

E. Lockhart was kind enough to send me a copy of her YA book, The Boyfriend List.

the boyfriend list.jpg

This is not a book I ever would have danced out and purchased on my own initiative because, you know, I am not fourteen. I am reading a lot of YA these days because my son is a voracious book-eater who reads WAY above grade level. I SCREEN some of the more advanced books that pique his interest---Sam may be capable of READING the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, but I don't think he is philosophically ready to take on what is essentially the secular humanist answer to Narnia. I've also tucked TITHE by Holly Black and CORALINE by Neil Gaimon away for a few years---both are ASTOUNDING books but the CREEP and CRUELTY factors would cause nightmares like you've never seen. Sam is, like me, an excrutiatingly VIVID dreamer. BUT ANYWAY, Sam is a manling, so most of the books I screen for him are about TIME TRAVEL and NINJAS and TALKING ROACHES and TRICKSY HOBBITSES.

The Boyfriend List skews older than Sam, and it's way GIRL-er than Sam. So, like I said, it's not a book I would have ever run across in my daily prancings. It is, however, a book I wish *I* had had when I was 13 or so...Seriously. It's funny and clever and an entertaining read -- BUT. It's also a SMART book to give a girl who is on the CUSP of that moment when the world SHIFTS and suddenly BOYS, those nasty, scab-encrusted creatures, become VIABLE HUMANS and our female friendships get completely rearranged. There's nothing easy-solution ala After-School-Special or pat about it, but it does VERY SUBTLEY and in a PREACH-FREE way offer girls ways to THINK about their choices. I'm giving my copy to my niece and buying another copy for Beautiful Caroline, a friend's fast-blossoming daughter.

After I finished the book, I snagged Miss E. and hit her up with my usual three questions:

Me: I usually ask how the author came up with the title, but given back jacket copy, I think that's a no brainer. SO I'll ask this instead: How did you come with the idea of having Roo (your main character) make a Boyfriend List? Did you ever have to make one?

E.: I had a list. I've lost it now. It was a list of every boy I had ever kissed, though. Not every boy I "ever had any little any kind of anything with" -- which is what Roo's is, in the book. And Roo's list is an assignment given to her by her shrink, as a way of getting her to talk about her life. Mine was just the a little personal record, kept in a pretty notebook.

Me: This is a funny, funny book that reads lightly---just a pleasure---but it's not an EASY book. I loved that there was no pure villian in this book, that Roo is flawed, that not every relationship gets healed and not every problem gets resolved, and that Roo asks more questions about her own behavior than she answers in the footnotes. Sometimes she has no idea if she made the right choices or not, and she asks the reader what they think, directly, and asks what they would do in her place. Did you start out with the idea of this book as a dialogue with the reader, or did that grow as you wrote?

E.: Thank you! There is a sequel -- The Boy Book -- which will come out in Spring 2006. But it'll be just as messy as the first one, no doubt (I'm in the middle of it, now). Life is messy.
And romance in high school -- well, the happy endings are nearly always short-lived.

I think the dialog with the reader came about organically when I wrote a passage near the beginning in which Roo decides not to explain what she looks like. It pisses her off (as it pisses me off) that heroines so often exhibit either radiant beauty (Bergdorf Blondes, for example) or self-loathing (She's Come Undone), with little in between. I had written descriptions of Roo's friends, but I balked at having her describe herself. So instead I wrote this whole footnote about all the reasons she refused to do it -- and before I knew it I was writing a whole 'nother footnote saying, Okay, if you're really jonesing for a description, I don't want to deprive you: I have waxy ears and cute teeth and long eyelashes and my tummy sticks out after I eat. Happy, now?

And once that kind of forum was open, it was natural to continue it into more important moments in her life.

Me: Part of what this book does is take a good, hard look at what happens to female friendships when young women reach the age where BOYS become a huge factor. Did you ever lose a friend over a boy?

E.: I most certainly did lose a friend over a boy. More than once.

All the circumstances in The Boyfriend List -- in particular, what happens between Roo and her friend Kim, and the reverberations of that through the rest of their high school -- all those are imaginary and escalated to extremes for comic effect. But I was writing about emotions and situations that I'm sad to say I continued to feel all the way through my twenties. The problem of friends dating ex-boyfriends, or boyfriends flirting with friends, or ex-girlfriends calling up my boyfriends and wanting to go to coffee.
All that painful weirdness-- that's what I was trying to write about in The Boyfriend List.

You can order The Boyfriend List at Amazon, B and N, Books-A-Million, or from your favorite Indy store via Book Sense. And you should.

Posted by joshilyn at March 21, 2005 8:28 AM

I read EVERYTHING and I'm totally putting this on my 'to-read' list. I should be done by time I'm 107.

Posted by: carrster at March 21, 2005 11:55 AM

Thanks for the tip! I haven't kept up on YA (though the lovely Jill loaned me Tithe while I was recovering from surgery), but I have a stepdaughter who is Approaching That Age. This just might make a good gift.

Posted by: Caitlin at March 21, 2005 12:06 PM

I'm a fairly new reader here, and I know you have a son, but I haven't made it back into your archives yet to figure this stuff just to cut through the rambling and get to my pointy points, how old is your Sam, and do you have a list of books that are boy-appropriate and friendly, ie books he has loved or that you would recommend for moms of boys? My kid is not a reader (although he loves the Sharper Image catalogue - whatever it takes) so we listen voraciously to books on tape in the car. I'd love some new titles that we can listen to while we wait for the next you-know-what-magical-manboy-wizard-book.

Posted by: laura at March 21, 2005 12:15 PM

Thanks for the review. I have a just turned 14 year old girl and it sounds like just the book for her.

Posted by: Karen at March 21, 2005 2:15 PM

It made me smile to see you mentioning YA books. I didn't foresee, that because of my daughters, I would get to read such a TREASURY of books. I only knew that there was a TREASURY of books I wanted to share with them. Now, Anna and I sometimes fight over the same book - who's gonna read it first or stealing it from one another when we go to sleep. Authors we enjoy - Karen Cushman, J.K. Rowling, Kate DiCamillo (and others). I'll certainly be on the lookout for this one.

Posted by: Dana at March 21, 2005 6:27 PM

For boys, you really can't do much better than Roald Dahl. Sam received "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach" during first grade. He rereads them about every two months usually in one or two sittings. He can't get enough of them.

Posted by: Mr. Husband at March 22, 2005 8:02 AM

ALL the dahl books rock, all all all! And to that add the MOOMIN books by Tove Jansen. And for OLDER boys (preteen and up) try the EARLY Robert Heinlein books, ESPECIALLY Door Into Summer, Starship Troopers, Have Space Suit- Will Travel, and RED PLANET. Nothing after Stranger in a Strange Land for middle schoolers though---he went from fantastic action/adventure sci-fi to intergalactic porn where he consistently refers to breasts as TEATS and DUGS ... which is SO YICK it is unforgivable except he DID write stranger and that's an AMAZING book, probably my favorite sci-fi book of all time, so I forgive him---HEAR THAT ROBERT! I FORGIVE YOU! I FORGIVE YOU FOR SAYING DUGS! He can rest easier now, I am sure.

Posted by: joshilyn at March 22, 2005 8:41 AM

Danny the Champion of the World by Dahl was my fave as a kid although it always seemed more like a 'boy' book than say the Ramona series...never bothered me though. ;-)

Posted by: carrster at March 22, 2005 11:43 AM

The Horrible Harry books are also quite good. Hi Joss!

Posted by: Martha O'Connor at March 22, 2005 11:55 AM