Claire Forrest is the author of Where You See Yourself, a Winter/Spring 2023 Indies Introduce Kids selection.
Forrest is a writer of young adult novels, picture books, and essays. She is a graduate of Hamline University’s Masters in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, where her critical thesis focused on the importance of allowing disabled authors to tell their own authentic stories. When she’s not writing, Claire is looking for her next book to read and enjoys swimming, attending concerts, spending time with her family and friends, and befriending every dog she meets. She currently lives on the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Očeti Šakówiŋ and Wahpekute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Forrest describes her relationship with writing: “I write stories about Big Feelings. Whether it’s friendship, romance, family relationships, or what it means to grow up and be a person in this world, those are my favorite feelings to spend time with as a writer and a reader. It’s probably because I often don’t know how I truly felt about something — or how to truly let go of something — until I’ve written about it. That’s why I’ve written my whole life. I started captioning my drawings as a child and began writing stories as a pre-teen. Growing up, I rarely saw disability portrayed in the pages of the books I devoured in a way that made me feel happy, proud, or accurately represented. As a result, both my fiction writing and freelance often focus on the disabled experience.”
Tory Hall of Chapters Books & Gifts in Seward, Nebraska, served on the panel that selected Forrest’s debut for Indies Introduce. Of the book, Hall said, “Where You See Yourself follows determined Minnesotan Effie, a wheelchair user, navigating her senior year of high school and college admissions. This is an eye-opening book featuring much-needed disability representation, and I loved the Midwestern nods — ‘save big money at Menards,’ anyone? Folks still trying to figure out ‘where they can see themselves’ as they venture out into the big world will absolutely relate to Effie; anyone unfamiliar with the concept of ‘spoons’ can absolutely take a lesson from Effie’s everyday challenges and struggles. SUCH a great perspective!”
Here, Forrest and Hall discuss Where You See Yourself.
Tory Hall: First things first, from one Midwesterner to another: hooray for more books set in our region! On a scale of “you’re wrong” to 10, how much do you love ranch?
Claire Forrest: Ranch is a top-tier condiment, and still my favorite thing to dip veggies into, even as an adult. I rate it an 8/10. I recently discovered videos of British people trying ranch for the first time, and their reactions are so genuine and joyful.
TH: Deciding on a college can be so stressful for teens, especially with the heavily-pushed narrative of “this will decide your life’s entire direction.” What did your own college search/decision process look like, and how did that inform your telling of Effie’s story?
CF: I had three main criteria for each of the colleges I looked at. The first was that I knew I wanted to study literature and writing. The second was that I was actively competing as a disabled swimmer and wanted to find a collegiate swim team that was willing to integrate me alongside their non-disabled swimmers. The third was, clearly, I needed my campus to be wheelchair accessible. I absolutely remember feeling like I was trying to find a needle in a haystack. I only applied to four colleges, in stark contrast to my non-disabled peers, some of whom applied to three times as many schools. There’s a moment in the book where Effie expresses jealousy towards her sister, Cora, whom she says could’ve picked her college at random because any school she was interested in would be accessible to her, and that feeling is one I remember well.
Though Effie’s and my criteria of what we wanted in colleges were different, I relied on my memory of my college search to tell her story. Both Effie and I encountered schools who had thought extensively about accessibility and accommodations for disabled students, and schools that had thought about it very little, if at all. I did not have a “dream school” — but Effie does. Throughout the course of the book, she has to juggle the balance of how much of her dream she might be willing to give up in order to be accommodated as a wheelchair user, versus how much work and personal effort she herself is willing to put in in order for the dream to work. It’s a complicated dance that I think will resonate with many disabled people who use mobility aids. It’s an unfortunate reality that even in our “modern” world, so many schools, workplaces, and public buildings still lack even basic accessibility features, and we’re either constantly evaluating how to make them work for us, or have to shift our time and attention to finding the places that will accommodate us.
TH: I can’t imagine navigating our snowy, slushy, salty winters in a wheelchair, so I was invested in seeing where Effie would eventually pick for college! As a bookseller/retail worker in the Midwest, do you have any tips for us to make spaces friendlier for people who use accessibility aids, especially in crummy winter weather?
CF: A huge thing the pandemic taught us is how virtual events benefit all people, not only for their convenience but because they provide access to all. Many disabled people and high-risk individuals have not gone “back to normal” after the pandemic, and also snow and inclement weather can make it difficult for us to be as active in our communities as we might like to be. I would suggest offering hybrid virtual/in-person bookstore events whenever possible. Also, shovel the sidewalks leading into your store and the curb cuts leading up to those sidewalks down to the pavement every time.
TH: Even though Effie and I had vastly different priorities during our college-hunting eras, Where You See Yourself brought me right back into my experiences and I saw many more similarities than differences. What advice do you have for teens in the midst of that nerve-wracking process? (Full disclosure, I took a “second senior year” exchange trip just to delay making that decision.)
CF: I know it sounds like I’m trying to make a cheeky reference to the title of my book, but I promise I am not! The best advice I received during my college application journey was that, if there’s a college you truly see yourself at, especially if you’re able to visit the campus and you feel like you can see yourself there, among the student body — pay attention to that feeling.
However, I would also say that it’s also okay if you don’t have a strong gut feeling. As Effie learns in the book, no college is absolutely perfect, and there will be challenges anywhere she goes. And although I myself did not transfer schools, I have many friends who did and who ended up finding more contentment and a better fit on their second try. It is a daunting decision, but one that isn’t always set in stone.
TH: This is just really me gushing at you: Effie’s happy ending was SO well executed — sweet without being saccharine; cute without being cheesy; realistic, honest, and full of heart. How did you do it?!
CF: What a compliment! Thank you. I won’t give away a key plot point, but there is a scene towards the end that involves an elevator and some hand-written rhymes. Figuring out all those rhymes was a blocked moment for me, but once I got through it, I gave myself permission to fully feel and lean into every emotion Effie would have throughout the book’s ending. Craft-wise, I also gave a lot of thought and focus to the final appearance of each key person in Effie’s life on the page. What is the lasting image I wanted the reader to have of each of those characters and what they mean to her, and how could I best demonstrate that in-scene? For me, this especially came down to Effie’s final interactions with her parents and her sister.
Many details of this book changed throughout the writing and editing process, but I had a solid vision of the ending when I was about halfway through writing my first draft, and that did not waver. So while some of the individual ending scene details were fuzzy early on, I always knew the general direction I was headed, and I think that really made the difference.
Where You See Yourself by Claire Forrest (Scholastic, 9781338813838, Hardcover Young Adult, $19.99) On Sale: 4/18/2023.
Find out more about the author at claireforrest.com.
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