An Indies Introduce Q&A with Christina Wyman

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Christina Wyman is the author of Jawbreaker, a Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce Kids middle grade selection and November/December Kids’ Indie Next List pick.

Wyman is a teacher and writer living in Michigan with her husband and silly rescue cats named Alfred and Greta Cannoli — not to mention the raccoons, owls, and hummingbirds that occupy a tree outside their bedroom window. She grew up in a tiny apartment with her family in Brooklyn, New York, where she dreamed of becoming a writer. When she’s not writing, you can find her stocking up on chocolate or trying to convince her husband to adopt more cats.

Gerard Villegas of Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, Washington, served on the panel that selected Wyman’s book for Indies Introduce. Villegas said of Jawbreaker, “In the same vein as Raina Telgemeier and Judy Blume, Maxine ‘Max’ Plink dreads the day she’ll get her retainer and braces. To make matters worse, she has to deal with the bullying, the typical angst of school, and her own personal drama. Both funny and moving, and including real-life relatable family issues, this features the humor of Jeff Kinney but with the social themes of Gordon Korman.”

Here, Wyman and Villegas discuss the author’s childhood experiences and how they inspired her book.

Gerard Villegas: Congratulations on being chosen for ABA's Indies Introduce for your debut, Jawbreaker. Being a former teacher, you write a relatable, connective character through Max. What led you to create a middle grade protagonist?

Christina Wyman: Thank you so much! I am one of those people for whom childhood trauma has followed me into adulthood, and many of those experiences were centered on middle school. In creating Max, I think I wanted to create a child who not only deals with hard things (like insecurity, bullying, and complicated family dynamics), but who also doesn't get so stuck that she's unable to see the other side of those difficulties. I really wanted to create a protagonist for whom things work out in the end, long before school is over.

GV: Max is of an adolescent age where she is dealing with multiple issues — self-esteem, angst, bullying, and family dynamics — but I love the fact that she perseveres. As someone who has written articles of empowerment and overcoming obstacles, would you say Max is an extension or personification of yourself?

CW: I absolutely have to admit that I connect very deeply with Max's story. While Jawbreaker is not a memoir, there are plenty of scenes that I don't think I would have been able to write with much conviction had I not had direct experience with those issues, such as the bullying and complicated family dynamics. So that's a big YES — Max is a part of me!

GV: Readers are introduced to terminology like Class II malocclusion, which is a fancy word for “overbite.” This is relatable to me since I have a nephew who struggles with wearing braces and a retainer. You seem to capture the awkwardness of wearing medical devices and the struggles of living daily with these instruments. Was this something you endured growing up?

CW: Yes! I did have to wear headgear. It was awful. There's this strap that goes around your head and neck area, which connects to a large metal piece that then gets connected to the brackets on your teeth way in the back of your mouth. It very much looks like one of Saturn's rings, at least from the front. I still remember the feeling of the front of my face and the back of my head being pulled toward each other with a level of pressure that made it hard to sleep. Have I mentioned that it's absolutely awful?

GV: You wrote an article about bullying and the impact it makes on individuals as an adult. As someone who was bullied in school, I agree it does stay with you. In the case of Max, she feels awkward but to add the fact she has to wear a medical instrument and is tormented by her peers. What suggestions or advice would you give to a young person going through a similar experience?

CW: There are a couple of things I wish I would have had the wisdom to leverage at the time. I wish I would have sought out more positive adult relationships, perhaps with certain teachers or other people at school. It was all very complicated back then. It was tricky, being a student in the ‘80s and ‘90s. There weren't as many ways to deal with hard things. As an educator, I now have an eye toward children who might need a little extra uplifting.

I also wish that I would have really been able to truly understand that all of this is so temporary. Braces, bullies, difficult moments — they're just that: difficult moments. (Even if those moments tend to stack up at times, as they had in Max's case — they certainly stacked up, in mine.)

Finally, I would want young people to know that other people don't define them. That they should begin thinking about who they (themselves) are and what they're about. Because if you know what you're about, and if you know how to tap into that inner strength, then another person's efforts to scar your soul will not be successful. My mistake was that I let the bullies define me, and my life became about avoiding them at the cost of understanding who I wanted to become.

GV: Final question. Jawbreaker gave me shades of children's lit inspirations from Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and more recently, Raina Telgemeier. Were there other children's authors that influenced your writing?

CW: All of those authors are certainly life-changing and hugely influential! I would say most recently, I love, love Jason Reynolds. He's magic with a typewriter. Kai Harris’ What the Fireflies Knew, is brilliant. And Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X is a book that I got to use in a college course I taught about children's literature, and it was amazing to have that experience. I also love Alan Gratz’s Refugee. If everyone read that book, they would have an entirely different view of the world.

I just love books that offer the realness of kids’ lives, wherever they happen to be from. And that realness is really ugly and debilitating sometimes. The books that get real about life are my forever favorites.

Jawbreaker by Christina Wyman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR, 9780374389697/9781250331021, Hardcover/Paperback Middle Grade, $17.99/$9.99) On Sale: 10/24/2023

To find out more about the author, visit

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