Swanky Seventeener Ruth Lehrer spoke with Jennifer Maschari, whose magical middle grade novel was published by HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray on February 23, 2016.
Ever since twelve-year-old Charlie Price’s mom died, he feels like his world has been split into two parts. Before included stargazing and Mathletes and Saturday scavenger hunts with his family. After means a dad who’s completely checked out, comically bad dinners, and a grief group that’s anything but helpful. It seems like losing Mom meant losing everything else he loved, too.
Just when Charlie thinks things can’t get any worse, his sister, Imogen, starts acting erratically: missing school and making up lies about their mother. But everything changes when one day he follows her down a secret passageway in the middle of her bedroom and sees for himself.
Imogen has found a parallel world where Mom is alive!
There are board games, scavenger hunts, and Mom’s famous spaghetti again, and everything is perfect…at first. But something doesn’t feel right. Whenever Charlie returns to the real world, things are different – and not in a good way. And Imogen wants to spend more and more time on the other side. It’s almost as if she doesn’t want to come back at all. If Charlie doesn’t uncover the truth, he could lose himself, the true memory of their mother, and Imogen…forever.
Jennifer Maschari is a former classroom teacher. She lives in Ohio with her husband and her two stinky (but noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. You can find out more about Jennifer and her books at www.jenmaschari.com.
Ruth: The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price is about loss and grief. Was it a specific experience, either personal or during your teaching career that made you think a lot about the topic of loss of a parent?
Jennifer: When I was younger, my father passed away after a long illness. This very much influenced the creation of the book, especially as I thought back to my own emotions involved in the grieving process: anger, sadness, the feeling of everything being super unfair, the splitting of things into before and after, the thought that time would somehow soften the memories you had.
Ruth: How do you think books like this are helpful to kids? Did you write it for this purpose?
Jennifer: I always write for the story and characters first. I think Charlie Price has a lot to offer readers in terms of excitement and exploring the bonds of family and friendships and this journey they take together. I wrote the book to tell Charlie’s story. With that said, though, I do think books provide windows and mirrors to readers. Is this a book that would have helped me process some of my own feelings when I was younger? I think so, yes. Books can give readers safe spaces to process complex emotions. I think books also build empathy, giving readers a look into others’ experiences. Books can be very powerful in letting kids know that that they are not alone.
Ruth: I loved the character of Ruby. I hear you have dogs too? Do they write? What is their opinion of your books?
Jennifer: Oh hooray! I am so glad you love Ruby. I love her, too. She is one great dog. I do have two dogs: Oliver and Hank. They are English bulldogs and very handsome. They do not write, but they do laze around the office when I am writing. They sleep and snore. When I read my work out loud, Oliver barks at me. He’s my very first critic.
Jennifer: Thank you, Ruth! You know I’m a big fan of your writing as well. My next book is another stand-alone middle grade coming out in spring 2017 from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. It’s still taking shape but it’s about a young girl who tries to navigate sixth grade – full of changing friendships and family struggles – with the help of a series of self-help tapes. I’m really excited about it!
Lightning Round Questions
What were your favorite books as a kid?
I was a pretty eclectic reader. I read a lot of westerns and adventure books. Some of my very favorite books were the Tomorrow Series by John Marsden (an Australian author who I wrote a fan letter to and he actually wrote back!), every mystery that Joan Lowery Nixon had written, GOODNIGHT MR. TOM by Michelle Magorian, and WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech. Those are just a few! In high school, two books that really stand out to me as favorites are SUMMER SISTERS by Judy Blume and THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver.
What are the best books (of any genre) that you read in 2015?
I read a lot of wonderful books in 2015. Corey Ann Haydu’s RULES FOR STEALING STARS, Elana K. Arnold’s THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES, Esther Ehrlich’s NEST, and Leila Howland’s THE FORGET-ME-NOT SUMMER. I also had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at some FANTASTIC 2016 middle grade novels. You can find a great selection of them here: https://thesweetsixteens.wordpress.com/mg-books/ One that I read just recently is THE RAT PRICE by Bridget Hodder. Out in August, it’s this completely fun, joyful, unique retelling of the Cinderella story. I grinned the entire time I read it! It’s unbelievably charming.
My favorite candy is the Reece’s peanut butter cup seasonal products, like the tree, egg, or pumpkin. They have the perfect chocolate to peanut butter ratio. I also really like peanut butter M & M’s and eat those a lot when I am writing.
Ruth Lehrer is a writer and sign language interpreter living in western Massachusetts. Her fiction and poetry have been published in journals such as Jubilat, DecomP, and Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH. Her novel, BEING FISHKILL, will be published by Candlewick Press in 2017.