May 31st, 2007

Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell, knowing

Interview: Sonya Sones

Sonya Sones has a background in animation and film, which led her to teach at various colleges, including Harvard. Years later, prompted by an assignment in a poetry class, she discovered a new interest. She now writes verse novels, but she doesn't use her pen only to write poems: she also draws the little flipbooks featured in the bottom corner of some of her books.

Her first novel, Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy, was born out of experience. Next came What My Mother Doesn't Know, a lighter story, telling of a girl's first crush. Both that and One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, my favorite Sones work to date, became bestsellers. Her newest verse novel, What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, is the highly anticipated sequel to What My Mother Doesn't Know.

As today is the last day of May, which is National Mental Health Month, let's start off this interview with a discussion of Sonya's first verse novel, which is a great pick for teens who are dealing with mental illness within their families or their social circles.

Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy is incredibly personal, to say the very least. What encouraged you to publish such private thoughts?

I'd been taking a class at UCLA on writing poetry for children, taught by the great Myra Cohn Livingston. I'd been concentrating on writing funny poems. But one day Myra asked us to write a poem using dactyl and trochee rhythms, which are these really somber rhythms. When I sat down to do the assignment, something very unexpected happened: I ended up writing a poem about having to visit my older sister in the mental hospital on my thirteenth birthday, and about how sad and scary that had been for me. I was embarrassed to share the poem with Myra because it was so intensely personal, but when she read it, she said, "You should write more of these." She said that anyone who had someone in their family who was throwing the whole rest of the family off-kilter would feel less alone if they could read poems like this one. She said she knew it would be hard, but that if I could put myself through it, I'd be doing a service. Collapse )

Visit Sonya's website. For an extensive list of Sonya's favorite prose and verse novels, check out the Great Books section.