I'm delighted to interview debut author Jen Petro-Roy about P.S. I MISS YOU (Feiwel & Friends, March 2018), a heartbreaking―yet ultimately uplifting―epistolary novel about family, religion, and having the courage to be yourself.
In this compelling middle grade novel, Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister, Cilla, away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. Forbidden from speaking to Cilla, Evie secretly sends her letters. Evie writes about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend. Evie could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back, and it’s time for Evie to take matters into her own hands.
What as your initial inspiration for P.S. I MISS YOU?
Jen: My original inspiration was actually my local library's book sale. It's one of my favorite events of the year (and so dangerous for my wallet) and a few years ago, I picked up an old copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw, which I hadn't read since I was a kid. I loved how Beverly Cleary had written the book in letters and gave myself a challenge of doing the same. At the same time, I was dealing with some of the same questions Evie was with her religion, and Evie's sexuality revealed itself to me as I wrote.
When you were shaping Evie's character, what did you see as her main quest?
Jen: I loved every step of writing P.S. I MISS YOU, especially the revisions, because that's when I got to go back and add more letters. I love Evie's voice and I love her journey of asserting herself and proclaiming that who she is is okay. That she doesn't need outside guidance or opinions to define her...something I still need to tell myself often!
Jen: Since this isn't an Own Voices book in that area, I wanted to make sure that I got Evie's feelings and emotions correct as she discovered her sexual orientation. Obviously, I know that this process is different for everyone, but I drew upon the feelings of my best friend a lot, who also grew up in a heavily Catholic town with me. My very first beta reader also made sure that I wasn't relying upon any stereotypes or generalizations. Above all, I wanted to make sure that Evie's sexual orientation wasn't the most important thing about her. Evie is a girl who has a crush. She's a girl who's not sure about whether she's ready for a relationship. She's a girl starting to define herself away from her parents. She's also a lesbian. People are complicated and made of many things, and I hope P.S. I MISS YOU expresses that.
What "nods from the universe" did you receive that let you know that you were on the right track as you wrote P.S. I MISS YOU?
Jen: Generally, I'm someone who loves revising way more than first drafting. I love the initial spark of an idea and that rush of brainstorming, but I always get so frustrated when I hit that halfway point. For P.S. I MISS YOU, it was different. I wrote the first draft faster than I've ever written a book, and the words flowed so much more easily.
Now that the publication date is near, what are you most excited about?
Jen: I'm simply excited to have kids read my book. I hope it inspires them and makes them feel not alone. I hope they enjoy it and recommend it to friends. I hope you enjoy it, too!
Author Erin Dionne said this about P.S. I MISS YOU: "Jen Petro-Roy has created a character with the potential to be as iconic as Judy Blume's Margaret."
That’s high praise! Congratulations to Jen; P.S. I MISS YOU will be on bookshelves in March 2018.