I had the good fortune to be assigned to interview Jennifer Brown, author of Torn Away.
An Interview with Jennifer Brown
I’ve lived in Kansas City my whole life, so not only do I have memories of having to trek down to the basement for shelter a few times a year, I’m still doing it! It’s just a part of living in the Midwest. And, in fact, it’s so much a part of living here, that I think, like Jersey, I have become desensitized to it. When I see footage of tornado destruction, it’s always a jarring reminder that, “Oh, yeah…that could actually happen here.”
Did you make any strange or unexpected discoveries while researching Torn Away?
Actually, my biggest discovery came with how the book was inspired. I visited Joplin, MO, just weeks after a tornado devastated their town. I was shocked at the resilience of the people of Joplin. Even though so many in their town had lost pretty much everything, they were strong, and dedicated to rebuild. I wanted to create a character with that same resilience. I wanted to know if it was possible to rebuild absolutely everything, even the things you’ve lost in your heart.
Authors so often use weather to reflect characters' emotions or to create tone. In this case, weather was so integral to your story--did that affect your thinking about weather as a symbol?
You know, I never really thought about it before, but you’re right—weather can be a powerful symbol in story. I’m not a big “scenery” writer, so I’m not sure if it will ever be a huge symbol in my stories, but, having written Torn Away, I will definitely be more aware of opportunities to make it so.
I hear that you started out as a humor writer, but Torn Away treats such serious events. Did you still find a place for humor in Jersey's story?
It’s hard to weave any sort of humor into a book that deals with tragedy, but sometimes I think it’s necessary in order to portray reality and also to give readers a break from all the sads. So, yes, I did create some lighter moments between Jersey and her friend and neighbor, Kolby. They had a great connection, and great chemistry, that lent itself to levity easily.
Each book is different. Though you've authored several books, did Torn Away teach you something new from a craft perspective?
I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning the craft. It’s just impossible to know it all! Torn Away was a pacing challenge for me from the beginning. I just couldn’t really tell where the bulk of the story was supposed to happen. In my first draft, I had a beginning that rushed, an end that rushed, and a middle that kind of plodded. I had to work hard to fix it so readers wanted to go with Jersey throughout the whole journey and not get stalled out in the beginning or feel cheated at the end.
More about Torn Away
When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?
In this powerful and poignant novel, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown delivers a story of love, loss, hope, and survival.
Buy it here!
More About Jennifer Brown
Jennifer's debut novel, HATE LIST (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009) received three starred reviews and was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA "Perfect Ten," and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. HATE LIST also won the Michigan Library Association's Thumbs Up! Award, the Louisiana Teen Readers Choice award, the 2012 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award, was an honorable mention for the 2011 Arkansas Teen Book Award, is a YALSA 2012 Popular Paperback, received spots on the Texas Library Association's Taysha's high school reading list as well as the Missouri Library Association's Missouri Gateway Awards list, and has been chosen to represent the state of Missouri in the 2012 National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Jennifer's second novel, BITTER END, (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011) received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA and is listed on the YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list and is a 2012 Taysha's high school reading list pick as well.
Jennifer writes and lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area, with her husband and three children.