Friend Friday

Karen Rivers is a longtime cyber friend, and wonderful writer, with notable titles such as Love, Ish, All That Was, and Before We Go Extinct. Please join me in welcoming Karen as she talks about her new book, A Possibility of Whales (Algonquin Young Readers). Look for it at your local independent bookstore on March 13th, 2018 when it hits the shelves.

Karen Rivers

I always tell people that I was born in the same year as Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret because it is true.   

By the time I needed it, age twelve, Margaret’s story was also twelve years old, and by then it was a staple on pretty much every girl’s bookshelf.

My mum gave me “The Talk” in the car one day, on our way to the library.  The car was a station wagon, green with fake wood paneling. We never wore seatbelts.  I remember that it was hot and the dark green vinyl seat was burning my leg. I rolled the window down, partly because of the heat, and partly because I wasn’t ready to hear what my mum was saying.   I was going to bleed? Every month? For days? And there would be cramps?

This seemed egregious.

I turned the radio up.   

I know she handed me a brochure called something like, “Your body, Your self!”   I remember that it had diagrams, terrifying side cutaway views of organs I hadn’t even known existed.   

I remember that she said, “Let me know if you have any questions!”   

I did not have any questions.

Or, more accurately, I would rather die than ask any questions.

The library was a ten minute drive from our house.   We didn’t talk on the way home.

I found the answers to the questions I was too shy to ask in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  My questions went beyond the pamphlet. They went to the places that were embarrassing but also imperative:  What did it feel like? What was it like? Would it mean that my childhood would be over? Would I have to start behaving differently?

I’m forty seven years old now and so is Margaret.   We’ve aged in tandem, side by side. In many ways, she has weathered better than I have.  Before I wrote A Possibility of Whales, I re-readAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It stands up.   I will absolutely give it to my own daughter.

Not yet.

But soon.

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to write an Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for kids who are twelve not in 1982, but in 2018.    From the start, that was my intention with A Possibility of Whales.

I gave Nat a yellow bathing suit.   

And I also gave her puberty.   

But in order to be true to her, I also gave her complications.  I gave her a dad, stratospherically famous, a fun, loving, amazing dad – and then I made him single.   I made her motherless. I gave her a best friend who was a trans boy, swimming upstream through the complicated current of his own journey.   

And then I gave her mothers, plural (although I didn’t give her her own mother).

I showed her where to find other mothers, substitute mothers, community, women.    

And then, because they mean so much to me and they have so much symbolism, meaning and importance in my own life, I also gave her whales.  It’s no coincidence that in local First Nations’ culture, the orca symbolizes family, that which Nat is seeking above all else.

At some point, all these ingredients had simmered for exactly long enough, and eventually I could see the whole book as clearly as a movie in my mind.   Only then did I write it down. Only then did I see the whole story.

I loved writing this book as much as I loved reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret the very first time, way back in 1982.   This one’s for you, Judy Blume. Thank you for noticing, for listening, for understanding, and for reflecting us back to ourselves so perfectly on the page, for giving us the answers we were too shy to ask.     

A Possibility of Whales (Algonquin Young Readers)

Karen Rivers is the author of twenty-one novels for adults, young adults and middle-grade readers. Her books have been nominated for numerous awards. She lives in Victoria, BC, with two kids, two dogs, two birds, one fish, and an assortment of forest creatures who have boundary issues. You can learn more about her and her books here. Karen has also generously offered  to giveaway an autographed copy of her book. Visit Rafflecopter to enter