As soon as I heard about ANA ON THE EDGE by A.J. Sass, I couldn’t wait to delve into it. It’s a really engaging story, and it does a great job exploring the importance of being true to yourself:
Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin, the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion, is not a frilly dress kind of kid. So, when Ana learns that next season’s program will be princess themed, doubt forms fast. Still, Ana tries to focus on training and putting together a stellar routine worthy of national success.
Once Ana meets Hayden, a transgender boy new to the rink, thoughts about the princess program and gender identity begin to take center stage. And when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy, Ana doesn’t correct him and finds comfort in this boyish identity when he’s around. As their friendship develops, Ana realizes that it’s tricky juggling two different identities on one slippery sheet of ice. And with a major competition approaching, Ana must decide whether telling everyone the truth is worth risking years of hard work and sacrifice.
On your website, you list tea tasting as one of your hobbies. What is your favorite tea and why?
I really love ordering tea at virtually any restaurant I visit. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a halt to a lot of my tea-tasting adventures (unless you count boba take-out, in which case my go-to flavor is the rose tea!). But for years my favorite was this black tea called Addis that I could only find at Ethiopian restaurants. It’s pretty easy to order online now, but not so much fifteen years ago when I first discovered it. I loved it so much I would ask restaurant servers if I could buy a box to take home with me.
Ooh, that Addis tea sounds great (and I also love me some boba tea)! ANA ON THE EDGE is such an engaging story, and it’s one of the best Middle Grade books I’ve read this year. How did you create such an immediacy in Ana’s experience?
Thank you so much! Setting Ana’s story within the world of figure skating and relating various gendered components of the sport to Ana’s growing discomfort allowed me to give Ana a definite and immediate challenge in her day-to-day life. While skating was the backdrop, Ana’s experiences with the binary world didn’t end on the ice. So much of the world we live in is gendered in a way that caters to binary folks, from gender reveal parties to pronouns, that many of the challenges Ana encountered throughout the book as she* explored concepts of gender identity fell naturally into place as I wrote it. These are things we all experience; they’re just more noticeable to nonbinary individuals. For Ana, it was a gradual discomfort at first, that quickly built the more aware she became of how much in the world is defined by this male-female dichotomy. I think Ana’s growing awareness certainly helped maintain a feeling of immediacy in the narrative.
*As a note: I refer to Ana with female pronouns because Ana hasn’t chosen a new set by the end of the story. Nonbinary people use a variety of pronouns, from gender neutral to male and female pronouns in some instances (e.g., I personally use he/him and they/them pronouns interchangeably). In Ana’s case, she’s still exploring what feels best for her.
As a reader I felt that growing awareness as well. You captured it beautifully. What does it feel like to do a cartwheel on ice?
Thrilling mixed with a bit of nerves! It’s similar to an off-ice cartwheel, except I usually try to make sure both of my hands are planted on the ice before I kick my feet over to reduce the chances of slipping. The best part is when you complete the move and get to raise your hands triumphantly overhead to finish. Take a look!
Awesome! What are some of your current projects?
My next full-length project is ELLEN OUTSIDE THE LINES. It’s about 13-year-old Ellen Katz, who is autistic, and follows her as she navigates changing friendships, a growing crush, and her queer and Jewish identities, all on a class trip to Barcelona. Its expected publication season is fall 2021 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I also have a short story in a middle grade anthology called THIS IS OUR RAINBOW: 16 STORIES OF HER, HIM, THEM, AND US that features short stories, poetry, and comics about LGBTQIA+ characters and experiences. It will also publish in fall 2021, with Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Beyond that, I have some ideas for picture books and young adult stories I’m excited to dive into now that ANA ON THE EDGE has published. More on those hopefully soon!
A. J. Sass (he/they) is a writer, editor, and competitive skater. A long-time figure skater, he has passed his U.S. Figure Skating Senior Moves in the Field and Free Skate tests, medaled twice at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, and currently dabbles in ice dance. A. J. lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs. Ana on the Edge is his first novel.