In How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, the first novel by Simone Elkeles, 16-year-old American teenager Amy takes an unexpected trip to Israel when her grandmother becomes ill. She didn't know her grandmother and barely knew her father, much less their culture and religion. Amy's story continues in How to Ruin my Teenage Life, which was released this year. Like its predecessor, Life mixes the funny with the serious. More serious is Elkeles' other 2007 release, Leaving Paradise, which deals with the aftermath of a hit-and-run car accident. A girl is critically injured by a boy her age - someone she knows, in fact - and their lives are forever changed.
Before diving into the deep waters of the interview, I dipped my toe in the shallow end of the pool and asked Simone how to pronounce her last name. "Elka-less," she replied, "I always tell people it's not Elka-more, it's Elka-less." I think I heard a little bit of Amy in that, so we went right into:
What do you think are some common misconceptions that today's teens have about Israel? What do you hope they learn from reading your books?
Gosh, there's so much about Israel and Israelis I want people to know. What you see on television news channels is just one little part of Israel. If the news channels only showed to the world the south side of Chicago, you'd get a very skewed view of what Chicago is. In my book, I wanted to show the parts of Israel people might not know about (and in a hilarious way). Teens live pretty normal lives there. (Until they turn eighteen and have to serve in the military -- which, incidentally, they are proud and happy to do.)
Were any of the events or characters in How to Ruin a Summer Vacation inspired by your own family members?
Absolutely! My father was Israeli and my husband is Israeli, so I have a lot of family members in Israel who I've spent summers with. The family members in How to Ruin a Summer Vacation are caricatures of people I know, mostly family members. I must say that I do have a cousin named Osnat, but the character in my book does not resemble her at all. My husband had a friend Oded who was dating a girl named Osnat, so that gave me the idea to put them together in my book.
Everywhere Amy goes in Israel in the book, I've been. My family lives on the moshav in the book (really called Moshav Kanaf), and I've been kayaking down the Jordan river in a rubber kayak (no kiss there, though). I've camped in the desert and have climbed Masada many times (most recently this past March). You'd be surprised at all the stuff I didn't make up!
What led you to write the sequel, How to Ruin My Teenage Life?
To me, Amy is the best character to write. She has no censor and tells it like it is. She entertains me as a writer. Also, Amy is more like me than any other character I've written. I wanted people to get a sense of who Amy is in her own environment, and how she deals with the next stage of her life after spending a summer away in Israel. That's how the idea of How to Ruin my Teenage Life was born.
Do you plan on writing more books about Amy?
No plans on writing more Amy books, although I really would like to. Hopefully in the future I'll write another Amy book, I get requests from fans all the time for another Amy adventure.
Leaving Paradise is told from two perspectives. The POV alternates every chapter. Did you write one character's chapters first?
I wrote the book as you see it, alternating between Maggie and Caleb. It was the first book I wrote that way and I loved showing the male and female points of view.
Do you have any other novels in the works?
I am working on another novel, this one is also in alternating points of view between the male and female character in each chapter. Look for the book to be edgy, because I tend to push the envelope when it comes to writing for teens. When I get a release date, I'll let you know!
What are your ten favorite books?
Sorry, I have to pick my own: How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, How to Ruin My Teenage Life, Leaving Paradise (I write the kind of books that I like to read)
Other teen books I've enjoyed recently:
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Secret Society Girl
Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You
Pull up a chair at Simone's cozy site.
How to Ruin My Summer Vacation was selected as a Readergirlz Recommended Read for July 2007.