Swanky Seventeener Jilly Gagnon recently sat down with Sweet Sixteener Lily Anderson to discuss Anderson’s contemporary YA debut, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU (St. Martin’s Griffin, May 17, 2016).
Stephanie Perkins meets 10 Things I hate About You in this fresh, romantic debut young adult novel inspired by Much Ado About Nothing.
Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Dr. Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West—and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing—down to number four.
Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben’s, including give up sleep and comic books—well, maybe not comic books—but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it’s time to declare a champion once and for all.
The war is Trixie’s for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben’s best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben’s cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie’s best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they’re on—and they might not pick the same side.
Lily Anderson is a school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California, far from her mortal enemy: the snow.
THE MEATY QUESTIONS:
Jilly: Fandom is integral to your story. How did you decide which fandoms everyone belonged to?
Lily: I wanted everyone’s fandoms to feel organic and, also, to have them compliment the characters. For instance, there’s a scene in the book where you realize that Trixie cannot deal with zombies. Does not like them at all. So, it wouldn’t make sense for her to read or watch The Walking Dead. But also, she wouldn’t be into really gruesome comics—which ruled out The Punisher and (my personal favorite) Deadpool.
Fandom is infectious. It’s hard to not have one person’s fandom bleed over into the others. So, while Trixie’s parents were into classic British comedies (inspiring Trixie’s love of Red Dwarf, Fawlty Towers, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy book series), they also introduced Trixie to Joss Whedon via Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which she shared with Meg and Harper. Harper’s dad introduced her to Superman, leading her into the DC canon, whereas Meg inherited a box full of Avengers comics from her older brother which is why she leans more Marvel.
Ben is into Spider-Man, Back to the Future, and Dungeons & Dragons because he likes any world where a gangly weirdo like him can be the hero. Cornell plays Magic: The Gathering with his cousins at holidays and has wanted to be a Jedi for as long as he remembers. Peter literally didn’t see a single Star Wars movie until his senior year of high school, but Force Awakens really turned him around on it.
Jilly: One of the most unique elements of your story was the school the kids go to: a school for geniuses. Did you have a real-life model for this?
Lily: I had a weird relationship with public school. I went to school from preschool through the first semester of seventh grade and then left due to a combination of severe anxiety and academic boredom. I went on independent study, skipped the eighth grade and did my junior and senior years combined into one by taking 12 classes at a time. I was 16 when I graduated and started college.
Since I graduated high school, I’ve talked to a lot of people with similar backgrounds—high IQ, bored with high school, and nothing to challenge them except AP classes. I wondered what it would look like if high school could be taught with the same focus that elementary school gifted programs were: specialized curriculum and higher standards for students. It would basically be a liberal arts college working with the same state guidelines as a regular high school. And being the education nerd I am (I come from a long line of educators and am, myself, a school librarian), I couldn’t help but start to build the Messina Academy as the bougie-est prep school ever—complete with a cricket team, vaguely Marxist student government bylaws, and an elaborate course catalog.
Jilly: The hyper-competitive environment puts some serious stress on your characters. Do you think places like this are good for teens, or just powder kegs?
Lily: Well, I grew up doing musical theater, so I might not be the best person to gauge whether or not hyper-competitiveness is good or bad for teens! There are upsides, of course, to learning how to handle this kind of stress in your teen years. For the students of the Messina Academy, none of them will ever have to question whether or not they can do incredible amounts of work in a small window of time. They will have had the opportunity to have hands-on learning experience in any field they might want to study long before it’s time to apply to college. And they’ll definitely get into great schools.
I think, even if you don’t go to a fictional school for the gifted, high school is a super stressful time in your life. You have more work and more social obligations and more hormones than you have ever thought possible. And while balancing all of that, society is expecting you to make choices about your future and to prepare to become a fully functioning member of society.
Jilly: Your book posits a pretty thin line between hate and love—have you ever had a rivalry turn into a romance?
Lily: Well, I would say that I’ve had an enemies-to-lovers relationship, but I actually don’t know if the other person would know how much I disliked him before we dated. It was a pretty one sided rivalry. But, yes, I once shouted from the rooftops that I hated someone and then fell in love with him. But like Trixie and Ben, I definitely think that flirting is 90% snarky banter and 10% physical contact, so it’s probably hard to tell when my hatred is true.
1) Where do you fall: DC or Marvel?
2) Doctor Who nerd-q: who’s your favorite Doctor? Your favorite Doctor-companion combo?
Tenth Doctor and Donna!
3) Favorite Shakespeare play? Besides “Much Ado About Nothing” of course 😉
A Comedy Of Errors
4) Favorite book at 16?
Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
5) If you could pick only one fandom to commit to for the rest of your days, which would it be?
Harry Potter (mostly because I’m not gonna get my tattoos removed, sooooo…)
6) Which of the characters in your book really has the highest IQ? I know they’re not supposed to tell each other, but WE need to know…
Jilly Gagnon writes young adult fiction, comedy, and personal essays. In the past her work has appeared in Newsweek, Elle, The Toast, The Hairpin, Vanity Fair, The Onion, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. Her comedy book series Choose Your Own Misery (co-authored with Mike MacDonald) will debut in 2016. So far three titles are planned. She has lived in the Boston area for over 10 years, but will always be a Minnesotan at heart. She recently started to play the violin, because she’ll also always be a masochist.