November 18th, 2008

books

Interview: Luisa Plaja

Split by a Kiss by Luisa Plaja is a fish-out-of-water story reminiscent of Sliding Doors. Shortly after moving to Boston from Britain, a teenage girl attends a party filled with kids from her new school. There, she kisses a popular boy - or does she? In one scenario, she does; in another, she does not. The story splits off from there, with chapters alternating between Josie, who is suddenly well-liked by her peers, and the not-so-popular Jo.

Not only is Luisa a published author, but she is a blogger and a book reviewer as well. This makes her a perfect addition to the Winter Blog Blast Tour.

You've been writing since you were a child. Now you have children of your own. Are either of them storytellers yet?

Definitely. They're both brilliant at telling stories. Aren't all children? Of course, mine have a genetic predisposition to sticking bits of paper together and 'publishing' their wonderful books.

That's adorable! You were published at a young age. When you were a teenager, you submitted short stories and other writings to magazines. What was the first publication to give you a byline?

Even though I sold quite a few stories in my teens, I didn't get a byline until I was much older, and that was in a magazine called Girl Talk, aimed at younger girls. It was a short story about a girl with a football-playing dog, although it was really about overcoming family prejudice. All in 500 words.

How did it feel to see your name in print?

I loved seeing my name in print, but I was obviously a bit more mature about it than I would have been as a teenager, and I only bought about 20 copies and talked about it non-stop for several months. The true thrill of seeing my name in print came from the moment I saw Split by a Kiss in book form, though. I'll probably never stop talking about that one.

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Visit Luisa's website, the Split by a Kiss website, and Chicklish

This is the second of five interviews I conducted for this year's Winter Blog Blast Tour, a week-long series of author interviews being held at various blogs. Read my other 2008 WBBT interviews and consult my complete interview archive.

Tuesday's WBBT schedule:
Ellen Datlow at Chasing Ray
Tony DiTerlizzi at Miss Erin
Melissa Walker at HipWriterMama
Luisa Plaja at Bildungsroman
DM Cornish at Finding Wonderland
L.J. Smith at The YA YA YAs
Kathleen Duey at Bookshelves of Doom

Check out this year's full schedule.

Fringe, contemplative, swing

Everything Beautiful in the World by Lisa Levchuk

If you combined the family strain and personal search from The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando with the forbidden teacher-student relationship from Teach Me by R.A. Nelson and added a pinch of the melancholy from Lisa, Bright and Dark, by John Neufeld, you would get Everything Beautiful in the World, a stunning debut from Lisa Levchuk.

Set in New Jersey in 1980, the story is that of seventeen-year-old Edna, an only child whose mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized in New York City. Edna can't (or won't) visit her mother, with whom she fought shortly before the diagnosis was revealed. She can't get that unfinished fight out of her head and feels guilty, as though her words caused the illness. As Edna pulls away from her father, she falls for her sculpture teacher, a married man in his early thirties who "sees beauty in things that other people take for granted," including her. Edna keeps their developing relationship a secret as she continues her day-to-day routine, attending school and working at a pharmacy where she occasionally steals objects and works for a middle-aged man who thinks he looks like Elvis Presley.

Though Edna is initially consumed by her relationship with Mr. Howland, the story becomes more layered as time goes on, especially with revelations related to her family's past. Her parents insist that she begin seeing a therapist, so she does, but she still can't manage to visit her mother. In one memorable scene, she and her father set out for the hospital, but Edna gets physically ill to the point that they must make multiple stops, then ultimately turn around and head home.

Told in vignettes titled after the locations or goings-on ("Another Night at the Pharmacy," "A Party at Patty's House"), with realistic references to the time period (the music of Bruce Springsteen, the aftermath of the Vietnam War), this coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson as well as those who lived through the actual era and/or read young adult fiction written in the eighties.

Opening Paragraph

I am seventeen years old and my mother who might be dying always says I am the center of her universe. She says that everything in the world revolves around me, but I disagree. Lately I feel like an astronaut out on a space walk -- constantly praying the tube attaching me to the ship doesn't snap and send me flying into outer darkness.

Favorite Passages and Vignettes

My School, pages 20-23 (the state of the world on page 23)

The Gold Chair, Again, pages 98-101 (origin of the novel's title on page 100)

I also reviewed this book (alongside Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell) for SparkLife and included it in my Tough Issues for Teens booklist.