Hello friends and welcome to my stop on the Read Me Like a Book blog tour! Liz Kessler is best known for her Emily Windsnap middle grade series and this is her first foray into the YA realm. Kessler actually wrote RMLAB ten years ago but now finally the time is right for this lesbian coming out story to make its way in the world. Author Liz Kessler talks about her publication journey below and how she updated the story for today’s readers in (Re) Read Me Like a Book. Thank you to Candlewick Books for sending me a digital review copy and to the author for sharing her story with us.
About the Book:
Ashleigh Walker is a mediocre student with an assortment of friends, a sort-of boyfriend, and no plans for the future. Then a straight-from-college English teacher, Miss Murray, takes over Ash’s class and changes everything. Miss Murray smiles a lot. She shares poetry with curse words in it. She’s, well, cool. And she seems to really care about her students. About Ashleigh. For the first time, Ash feels an urge to try harder. To give something — someone — her best. Before she knows it, Ashleigh is in love. Intense, heart-racing, all-consuming first love. It’s strong enough to distract her from worrying about bad grades and her parents’ marriage troubles. But what will happen if Miss Murray finds out Ashleigh is in love with her?
Liz Kessler on “(Re) Read Me Like a Book: Then vs Now”
Read Me Like A Book was the first novel I ever wrote. I started it in 1999, finished it a couple of years later and via my agent sent it out to publishers. They all rejected it. Fifteen years later, my story about a girl coming out was finally published, into a world that was much more open to its themes and messages. But it wasn’t just attitudes towards the LGBT community that had changed. Going back to my novel to get it ready for publication, I realised how much else had changed as well.
In the first version, there were no mobile phones. Can you even imagine that? Teenagers called each other on landlines! The whole means of communication between my characters changed in the fifteen year interlude.
Another thing I had to look at closely was anything to do with musical references. Anyone I mentioned by name was already a generation out of date! Not just that, but the means of listening to music itself had changed. Dylan originally worked in a record shop. Records – what are they? Then I changed him to a popular high street chain of shops, which then went out of business during the recession! So I had to change that yet again.
Many things about the way young people speak had changed in the time span too, so I worked a lot on the characters’ dialogue. This was particularly interesting because in the course of those fifteen years, not only had young people’s language changed, but I was another fifteen years older than my characters, so I made sure I took advice on this from teenage friends!
Perhaps the change I found the most interesting was the scene where Ash and Cat are accosted by some lads at the bus stop. The original version of this scene was much more threatening to the girls. When we read it again, my editor and I both felt that this no longer seemed as realistic and that today’s young people would probably find it easier to relate to a more light-hearted scene of banter and fairly good natured mocking. The scene still affected Ash in the same way – but the way the characters interacted had changed.
Finally, in the original version, Miss Murray had been a bit less clear in her boundaries with Ash and could perhaps have been seen to have responded to Ash’s feelings less sensibly than she does in the final version. My editor and I had long conversations about this, and in the end we both felt it was really important that Miss Murray did not cross any professional lines. I did this for the story, not for any other reason. I wanted the focus to be about Ash’s journey and feelings, not about whether or not a teacher should have acted in any particular way. But in the back of my mind, I was also aware that in the last fifteen years, there have been many stories in the news about teachers and students getting into relationships, or abuses of their position by teachers, or even of young people being abducted by older teachers. The raised awareness through these news stories made me feel even more strongly that I wanted Miss Murray to stay on the ‘right’ side of her professional boundary and the focus to stay firmly on Ashleigh and her own emotional journey.
Working through all of these changes was interesting, challenging and fun – and filled me with a strong sense of the many ways that society changes and evolves all the time. In particular, I realised how proud I am to be alive in these times of change that feel, for the most part, to be so positive for the LGBT community.
Thanks, Liz! So much has changed in fifteen years, and I’m glad the time is finally right for readers to meet Ash. It’s a perfect Pride read and especially important given current events.
About the Author:
Liz Kessler is the author of the best-selling Emily Windsnap series, the Philippa Fisher series, and the middle-grade novels North of Nowhere, A Year Without Autumn, and Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? She lives in Cornwall, England.
Official Blog Tour Stops:
6/14 YA Book Central
6/15 My Mercurial Musings
6/17 Mayor of Bookopolis
6/18 I Read Banned Books
6/19 Forever Literary
6/20 Word Spelunking
6/21 My Books Views
6/22 Kelly Vision
6/23 Swoony Boys Podcast
6/24 Reviews Comin At YA
6/25 Comfort Books
6/28 The Reading Date
6/29 Forever YA
7/1 Randomly Reading