Get excited, ladies and gentleman, the incomparable Megan McCafferty, author of Sloppy Firsts, the voice behind your secret best friend Jessica Darling, has generously granted me three questions. In honor of the tenth anniversary of the Darlingverse, here are her answers:
1. I just finished your latest young adult novel, Bumped. It seems to speak to two extreme attitudes about teenage (especially female) sexuality. In one society, sex is glorified and raunch culture is put on a pedestal of “liberation” and community
service. In the other, sexuality is repressed and considered sinful. Do you see these two poles in our current society? What do you feel are the most egregious examples on either end? And what will be the most damaging effects?
Bumped is a satire, about what happens when extreme thinking on both ends of the sociopolitical spectrum drown out more moderate approaches to social problems. And American culture is obviously torn between Puritanism and pornification. Everything in the book—especially the most shocking bits like 11 year olds getting pregnant—are already happening somewhere in the world in real life. Anyone who reads Bumped and thinks civilized society would never encourage teenagers to procreate…well, they’re ignoring not just the present, but the past as well. I want readers to consider how cultural norms are fluid, not
fixed. And under certain terrible circumstances, Bumped could definitely be a reality.
2. Jessica Darling comes out of a social scene plagued by superficiality and a shallow love for beauty culture. And yet, she seems so balanced. What can we do to help girls emerge from a similarly substance-free culture of Bratz dolls and princess gear? (Besides buying them Sloppy Firsts, of course).
Thanks for saying that! My parents raised me to take pride in what I could do, what kind of person I was, not the way I looked. That’s not to say I never stressed about zits or cursed how I couldn’t fill a training bra. I got very, very sad when my crushes overlooked me for the cute cheerleaders. That said, I also didn’t get all swoony whenever a boy complimented my appearance because I knew that looks were only part of the whole package. I had a lot going for me: I was smart. I was athletic. I could sing and write and do all these things that would serve me well as I got older. I always saw beyond the bubble of middle school and high school with an eye on what opportunities I could create for myself when I went out into the world beyond.
3. After the Jennifer Egan WSJ brouhaha about “chick lit,” Ms. Egan called you an “ultra classy lady” regarding your response to the situation. Do you feel the need to think about your books in the canon of “female writers writing about female characters,” or categorically (i.e. chick-lit, YA etc.)? Do you feel that as a writer you get taken less seriously because of your audience? Are there super secret writer clubs that won’t have you as a member because your readers are in their teens?
What bothered me most about Egan’s comments was that she made those value judgments without having read any of my work. And I’ve found that many of the critics who dismiss my books have only read bits and pieces out of context. Not to mention that these critics are usually not my target audience and hold a rather limited or dim view of YA books in general.
I didn’t set out to write chick lit. I wanted to write the type of book that I wish I’d had in high school. And I hoped that if I wrote honestly about those years, Sloppy Firsts would resonate not only with readers still in high school, but those who graduated long ago. Hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world have told me that I’ve succeeded. Ten years later, new readers are still finding a friend in Jessica Darling. I hope that connection with readers continues for decades to come. That’s why I write–not to be admitted into some super secret writer club that I don’t even know about.
Big thanks to Megan for her thorough responses! Follow her on Twitter!
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