Gracia grew up biracial in the Midwest, spending her formative years repeatedly answering the question “What are you?” Before finding her way as a young adult author, she was a CPA, a public school teacher, a tennis coach, and for one glorious summer, a waitress at a pie shop. She now lives on the West Coast, raising three kids and writing stories about girls navigating a world full of double standards.
“There are many paths in life to take, whether it’s the boys you date or the college you choose — and everyone seems to have an opinion on what’s best for June Chu, but she has yet to decide what she thinks is best for herself," said Andrew King of The Secret Garden Bookshop in Seattle, Washington, who served on the bookseller panel that selected Gracia’s book. “Boys I Know is Judy Blume’s Forever for the modern age, carrying with it the expectations of family, academics, and relationships. June’s journey through senior year is all too relatable in all of its messy, soul-searching glory.”
Here, Gracia and King discuss Boys I Know.
Andrew King: When you write, do you write as you go in a chronological order, or do you jump around your story if you have specific scenes in your head and connect them later?
Anna Gracia: My process is utter chaos, usually starting somewhere in the middle and jumping around as I see fit (the switch from Word docs to Scrivener improved my writing experience possibly more than the formation of the English language alphabet itself). I do pretty much everything everyone tells you not to: I edit as I go, I write sporadically with no set schedule, and I don’t create any kind of aesthetic or playlist or character profile. I want the process or writing to be as much fun as possible, so I am forever finding ways to “trick” my brain into wanting to do it by dreaming up a scene that seems like fun to write, then figuring out whether it’s worth keeping later. It’s terribly inefficient.
AK: One of many scenes I found important in your book is when June goes to Planned Parenthood to get a morning-after pill. It’s important for teen readers to know they have options. Do you feel that, in this current age, teens are relying on books and media as a form of sex education, since it’s extremely lacking in schools?
AG: Absolutely. Kids are thirsty for knowledge and when access to that knowledge is false (e.g., sex can only occur between a man and a woman) or removed (e.g., book bans), these kids are often left unequipped to make responsible choices about their own bodies. After all, how would you know that contraceptives prevent pregnancy if you haven’t been taught how pregnancy occurs? How would you revoke consent if you haven’t been shown that it’s both possible and acceptable?
Something I always point out to people who are against comprehensive sex ed in schools is that after the show Teen Mom aired on MTV, teen pregnancy rates plummeted. Kids are so much smarter and more perceptive than the adults in their lives give them credit for, and the best way for kids to make informed decisions is by *shock!* actually giving them that information.
Sex can be wonderful. It can also be terrible. It can be messy. Queer. Weird. Confusing.
On the flip side, it can be non-existent. Or scary. Unwanted.
Kids deserve to be taught about the world they live in. So my goal, as an author, is to always give them an accurate reflection of it. At least for someone out there.
AK: It’s not easy to write realistic teenagers, but you nailed it in your book. How did you write teen voices and interactions so authentically?
AG: My mom always said she loved teaching because the kids kept her young. Maybe writing about teens kept me young too? Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe my normal self simply sounds like a teen.
AK: On a similar note, teenage boys have always been frustrating to understand, let alone date. June has experiences with three boys in Boys I Know — are any characters based on boys YOU knew?
AG: “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental,” et cetera et cetera. =)
AK: What writers or books do you feel have been most influential for you as an author?
AG: One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson–who, for anyone who doesn’t know him, writes fascinating nonfiction on all manner of topics. He taught me that any topic can be a story, and that any information can be interesting, if told in the right way. I believe I could finally learn Calculus from that man. Whenever I have to tackle a scene I’m not excited about or add detail that’s necessary but I don’t like writing, I remind myself that anything can be interesting; I just need to find the right words to describe it.
Boys I Know by Anna Gracia (Peachtree Teen, 9781682633717, Hardcover Young Adult, $17.99) On Sale Date: 7/19/2022
Find out more about the author at anna-gracia.com.
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