I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of this book on NetGalley, and it was such an engaging read! Elly Swartz does a great job at capturing what it’s like to have social anxiety and changing friendships in middle school, with the extra-fun element of an advice column:
When Autumn becomes the secret voice of the advice column in her middle school newspaper she is faced with a dilemma–can she give fair advice to everyone, including her friends, while keeping her identity a secret?
Starting Middle School is rough for Autumn after her one and only BFF moves to California. Uncertain and anxious, she struggles to connect with her new classmates. The two potential friends she meets could not be more different: bold Logan who has big ideas and quiet Cooper who’s a bit mysterious. But Autumn has a dilemma: what do you do when the new friends you make don’t like each other?
When Autumn is picked to be the secret voice of the Dear Student letters in the Hillview newspaper, she finds herself smack in the middle of a problem with Logan and Cooper on opposite sides. But before Autumn can figure out what to do, the unthinkable happens. Her secret identity as Dear Student is threatened. Now, it’s time for Autumn to find her voice, her courage, and follow her heart, even when it’s divided.
According to your website bio, you studied psychology at Boston University, and received a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. In what ways, if any, did this influence your writing?
I think my stories are the cross-section of my education and life experiences. In college, I majored in psychology. I’ve always been drawn to understanding mental health and how it impacts our hearts and the decisions we make. There are people in my life with mental health challenges and learning the way the brain and body work together, has given me a greater understanding and sense of appreciation.
It’s so important to me that kids know that we are all working on something. And in my stories, I have the opportunity to share that message through my characters and their journeys.
As for the lawyer in me, I think that’s what makes sure all aspects of my books are thoroughly researched. Authenticity and respect are at the cornerstone of my writing. And I truly believe all great fiction is rooted in something real. So there ends up being a lot of research that goes into my writing. For instance, in DEAR STUDENT, I consulted with a pediatric therapist who specializes in anxiety, a person who specializes in iguanas and snakes (pregnant ones!), a congressman who sponsored the Humane Act bill that prevents the testing of cosmetics on animals and those in his office in charge of that bill, a Peace Corps volunteer, and educators who kindly shared their Spanish translation skills and input with me.
I am beyond thankful for the years of education in college and law school that have helped me navigate life on and off the page.
That pregnant snake was one of my favorite details in this story! Can you tell us how you started writing Middle Grade books?
My journey to yes was long and winding. It took 15 years and began when my oldest son (now 29) was in 4th grade. He was assigned the book, Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park. We read it out loud together. It made me laugh and it made me cry. It made me feel all the feels. That was the moment I knew I wanted to write for kids. And when I started writing, there seemed to be a 12-year-old kid whispering in my ear and the voice that came out was middle grade. I truly think it chose me!
I’m certain it did! And I love how DEAR STUDENT explores trusting your voice. What do you hope readers glean from Autumn’s story?
I hope readers see that we are all a bit like Autumn.
We all have moments when we step into a room and wonder if we fit. If we’re saying the right words, wearing the right clothes, doing the right things. Moments where we wonder if we belong. In those moments, I hope kids realize that we are all working on something.
That they do belong. They do matter.
They don’t have to act like someone else, dress like someone else, or talk like someone else to fit.
They just have to stay true to themselves. Truly, that’s the bravest thing we can all do.
Very well said! I love the curriculum guide for your debut novel, FINDING PERFECT. If you could draw, explain, or write your own poem representing your idea of perfect, what do you think it would look like?
I love this question, thank you! I do this exercise with students as part of my school visits. We create a community Perfect Is poem together. Mine looks like this:
The warm sun on my face
An endless beach at low tide
Fire-orange red leaves
Singing loudly to a song I love
Dancing like crazy in the kitchen
Eating a whole bowl of jelly beans
The color of spring grass
Confetti in the night sky
A blanket of untouched snow
The smell of a new book
A story I don’t want to end
Someone to read with
With my family
And there are happily curriculum guides now for all of my books. It’s my way of saying thanks to educators who choose to share my stories with their students.
Wonderful. What are some of your current projects?
I have another middle grade novel entitled, HIDDEN TRUTHS, coming out in 2023 with Random House. HIDDEN TRUTHS is a story told in dual pov between best friends Danielle – a star baseball player – and Eric – her forgetful, but kind, goofy, crossword-loving neighbor. Their friendship has begun to shift when a terrible accident happens, accelerating their rift.
At its heart, this story asks how far you’d go to keep a promise to a friend. And if forgiveness can really heal the hurt that comes when trust is broken.
I’m also working on a picture book and starting a new middle grade that I am bursting with excitement to write.
Lots more to come. Woohoo!
A bit about pre-ordering DEAR STUDENT (courtesy of Elly!)
Lots of good things come from pre-ordering. I’ve learned in the last few years writing books, that pre-ordering is a GINORMOUS help to us authors. Who knew!? So, I’m asking if you think this is a book you’d like to read (and my heart is saying, YES please say yes!), take a moment to pre-order your copy.
Special signed copies!
If you pre-order DEAR STUDENT (out February 15, 2022) from Eight Cousins, Wellesley Books, or The Brain Lair, your book will be signed to the reader of your choosing and you’ll receive a limited-edition bookmark.
If you pre-order from Eight Cousins, Wellesley Books, The Brain Lair, or anywhere books are sold, and send proof of purchase to email@example.com, you’ll be entered to win one of the three prizes below. Winners randomly chosen on 2/15/22. Good luck!
** Happy Prize. A signed Brave Like Me poster
** Dear Prize. Handwritten letters to you, your bookclub, your group of friends (up to 20), or your class from Elly in the style of Dear Student.
** Virtual Prize. A free 30 minute virtual Q & A with Elly!