Kathleen Glasgow is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Girl in Pieces and How to Make Friends With the Dark. You can find her on Twitter @kathglasgow or on Instagram at misskathleenglasgow.
Joe Buckler: First off, I would like to thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview, we are big fans of your work at Pine Reads Review, and we are always excited to have you.
Now, I’d like to talk about the subject matter of your newest novel—How to Make Friends with the Dark—which, while not being far removed from the themes of your first novel, certainly offers a fresh perspective on the complex issues of grief. What makes this subject such an important consideration within the realm of Young Adult fiction?
Kathleen Glasgow: When I experienced the deaths of my mother and sister, I was an adult, so I had *some* tools in which to cope with my grief and mourning. But as much as we like to think teens are resilient, they aren’t. They don’t have the tools adults have, particularly when faced with the death of a parent. As Tiger says in HTMFWTD, “I need my mother to save me from the fact that my mother is dead.” What do you do when the one person who is tasked with taking care of you….is gone? Who helps you? Who looks out for you? Writing this book was a little bit my way of writing a grief manual, a “how to” for young adults
JB: Additionally, did you come across any constraints while designing this novel for a teenaged audience, especially considering the challenging, and undoubtedly controversial, topics it presents?
KG: I didn’t have any personal constraints, or any from my publisher. I set out to write a specific story about a girl who loses her only parent and is sent to foster care and experiences both good and bad things while in the system. Now that the book is out in the world, there are people who are taken aback by the intensity of Tiger’s experience of grief, but to that I can only say, “You must not know grief, because it is some intense s**t, let me tell you.” I do take care when I write specifically for young adults in the sense that I want to treat their experiences, feelings, and age group respectfully.
JB: While the YA genre hasn’t always been open to mature themes, is has certainly, in the past few years, become a new, safer venue in which to explore them. As part of the new generation of writers pushing for this form of necessary realism, what are you hoping to bring to the table with your own work?
KG: Hmm. This is an interesting topic because I grew up reading books meant for teens in which a LOT of realistic content was present, so for me, it wasn’t a new thing. It was what I grew up reading and so I write those stories. I read a ton of Norma Klein books between the ages of 11 and 13 and let me tell you: sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and parents who were also into those things. The books I read at those ages were about divorce, body shaming, sexual exploration, drugs, running away, and trying to find your place in the world. Books with these subjects have always been around and sold quite well. Sometimes people deride and reduce contemporary teen realism as being only “issue” books, but…isn’t adolescence filled with a lot of issues we need to let teens explore? Like sexuality, mental illness, relationships? Reading is a safe space in which to explore difficult topics you might not be ready talk about.
JB: Besides the intricacies of the grieving process, the many problems inherent in our child service and foster care systems are also explored within the novel. What made this first-person view of these failing vital to Tiger’s journey?
KG: First let me say that there are many, many, many valiant, brave, and loving people who foster children. Full stop. And some of them are in HTMFWTD. And there are some adults who do not have the best interests of children at heart, and they are in HTMFWTD. So, I would say Tiger’s experience is 50/50. The fact is that our foster care system is overwhelmed with children and understaffed. Do I know how to fix that? No. Do I know kids in foster care who need to see their experiences reflected in a character in a book? Yes. The book as a whole is about grief, but a lot of the book is also about what it means to be a parent. About what it means to *parent* someone. That’s where Tiger’s half-sister comes in.
JB: Additionally, how did the other characters lost in the system, especially Thaddeus, become an important part of the larger story you wanted to tell?
KG: I wanted to make sure that a range of foster kids appeared in this book. Kids who were in foster care because of parental addiction. Kids in foster care because of parental abuse, which is where Thaddeus comes in.
JB: The bond between Tiger and her mother was complicated long before the tragedy of the novel takes place, how do you think the relationship you created influenced Tiger’s ability to deal with the difficulties of losing someone?
KG: Because they were so attached and only had each other, and her mother kept her somewhat oblivious to the outside world, Tiger is ill-equipped to imagine a life without her mother. June is the only family she’s ever known, until her half-sister appears. In the book, I try to show why June sheltered Tiger to such an extent and that sometimes, in trying to protect our kids, we might actually be causing them harm, in the sense that they aren’t learning how to deal with adversity. Or grief. Or heartbreak.
JB: One of the responses often seen to this amount of realism is the disappointment that not everything always works out for the protagonist. Why do you think it is important for your readers to see the darker aspects of life, especially without the benefit of the kind of hand-holding, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel ending that they may be accustomed to?
KG: Well, I would say that things do work out for Tiger. She does form a relationship with Shayna and Shayna becomes more honest about her shortcomings. But Tiger’s mom is gone (except for a brief moment at the end of the book) and she’s not physically coming back. You can’t get over that, you can’t *move on,* but you can learn how to get up every day and live life. I would say things work out for Thaddeus, too, in that he devises a plan of his own for adulthood, a plan to have a safe and loving life. I don’t know what happy ending you can have after losing a family member; all I know is that you have to find a place, or people, where your grief is welcomed and understood.
JB: Shayna is the closest thing Tiger has to a family after the loss of her mother, and, at first, she even appears to be Tiger’s potential savior, but it soon becomes clear that she has demons of her own to deal with. What was the benefit of designing this character with flaws, and how do you think this unconventional family dynamic helped Tiger in the long run?
KG: There are so many kids right now being raised by people other than their parents. They are being raised by aunties, grandmas, cousins, older siblings. Shayna is 20 years old with her own demons to deal with. I wanted to explore what it’s like to suddenly be thrust into the role of parenting someone only four years younger than you are. What do you have to offer? What do you have to learn? Shayna, at the end, literally buys a copy of Parenting for Dummies to help her figure stuff out, because she didn’t have the greatest role models, either, and I’m super proud of her for getting that help!
JB: Were there any significant lessons learned from the process of writing this novel, personally or professionally?
KG: Never rewrite your whole book while your editor is on vacation. But that’s a story for another time.
JB: Once again, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, we thoroughly enjoyed How to Make Friends with the Dark. Is there anything else you would like to add about the book, or yourself, for any prospective readers out there?
KG: Keep supporting authors! Buy books! Lend books! Visit your local library!