As if Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President (review and author interview)
I reviewed this over the summer, as part of a round-up on summer reading for kids. A few months ago, I did an author interview, by email, with Donna Gephart.
Here is the review that appeared in the Star-Ledger on June 29, 2008.
The title of Donna Gephart’s smart, funny novel, “As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President” (Delacorte, 240 pp., $15.99), says it all. Vanessa Rothrock has enough trouble fitting in when her Mom is the governor of Florida; but once the presidential campaign begins, Vanessa feels she can’t even talk to her mother without an appointment with the press secretary. Gephart does a beautiful job blending a tense political race with Vanessa’s junior high dramas.
1. In “As if Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President,” how did you decide to make Vanessa’s mother, the presidential candidate, the governor of Florida and a Democrat?
Since I live in Florida and am a democrat, I employed the “write what you know” philosophy.
2. When did you start writing the book?
I began the novel early in 2005. It actually started as a short story, but grew. After many revisions, my agent sent it out early in 2006, and it sold to Random House three weeks later.
3. What political news influenced your decision?
I was still thinking about the 2000 election debacle in Palm Beach County, where I live. And the 2004 election had recently taken place. I’m passionate about politics and wanted to make it fun and accessible for children.
4. What resources did you use to research the political process, so that you could describe Vanessa’s experience of it as the daughter of one of the candidates?
I spent months exploring books, articles, Web sites. There is a wealth of information available, but I had to dig to find out what it’s like for a candidate’s family on the campaign trail. Much insight came from the book, An Amazing Adventure: Joe and Hadassah’s Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaign. Hadassah wrote about what it was like having security everywhere and how her wardrobe was scrutinized, scuffed shoes immediately discarded.
5. What are you working on and writing now?
I’m very excited to be working on revisions of my next novel for Stephanie Lane Elliott at Delacorte Press/Random House. It’s about a boy who fancies himself a young Jon Stewart, creating his own shows on YouTube. But he has a challenging time fitting into the middle school culture and coming to terms with some family issues. This novel is filled with a cast of quirky characters that I’m enjoying spending time with. It will be out early in 2010.
6. Where were you on election night? Did you watch the returns come in?
Did I watch the returns come in? I’m a political junkie! I couldn’t get enough news around election time. Hubby and I and our two teenage sons watched the results together in our living room. After so many months of campaigns and debates and issues, it seemed almost anti-climactic when the results were announced so quickly.
7. What advice do you have for the Obama family, especially the daughters, now that you have imagined the life of a Democratic candidate’s daughter? (Especially Malia, who will turn 12 3/4 while her father is in office!)
President-elect Obama has his work cut out for him to move this country forward. He’s well aware of the myriad issues he must confront simultaneously. His family, I believe, is making a great sacrifice. While the girls will have extraordinary experiences, they will have no chance at a “normal” childhood. I’m sure Michelle and Barack have those girls as their top priority. From what I’ve read, the Clintons managed to give Chelsea many “normal” childhood experiences, like sleepovers and birthday parties.
And the bookish questions I ask all my interviewees:
What book have you read more times than any other? What keeps you coming back?
Adult: The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I love the mood the book sets, and read it during the holidays every year.
Children: A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban is the kind of book I wish I’d written. It’s warm and funny and quirky and brimming with love. A perfect middle grade novel.
What book do you wish you’d written? What author’s talent do you envy?
Um, besides Linda Urban, I admire Jerry Spinelli, Christopher Paul Curtis, Gary Paulsen, Louis Sachar, Sherman Alexie, Markus Zusak, Pete Hautman, David LaRochelle, Gennifer Choldenko . . . I could go on and on.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask you?
How do you feel about winning the Newbery? (Hey, a girl can dream!)