An Indies Introduce Q&A with Ronnie Riley

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Ronnie Riley, author of "Jude Saves the World"Ronnie Riley is the author of Jude Saves the World, a Winter/Spring 2023 Indies Introduce Kids selection.

Riley (they/them) is a queer, nonbinary, neurodiverse, disabled author based in Ontario, Canada. They love tea, chocolate, and a cat (or six) nearby while they are writing or reading. Ronnie writes books they wish they had as a kid, featuring queer characters, friendship, and hope. Their stories are contemporary, allowing kids to see themselves as they are in the real world.

Gabriella Crivilare of Prairie Fox Books in Ottawa, Illinois, served on the panel that selected Riley’s debut for Indies Introduce. Of the book, Crivilare said, “Despite its difficult moments, Jude Saves the World is pure joy, full of love and support in the face of a parent’s well-intentioned but misguided protection and the ups and downs of friendship. Ronnie Riley navigates Jude’s identity and various levels of being openly out with care and skill, and seeing them step up to create a safe-space club open to the community at large was inspiring and cheer-worthy. Jude is the brave and loyal friend all young queer kids need.”

Here, Riley and Crivilare discuss Jude Saves the World

Gabriella Crivilare: You say in your author’s note that your gift to Jude is that they know who they are. One of the aspects of the novel that most impressed me was how the narrative allowed Jude to be Jude by putting their name (or a gendered term) in a different font to indicate when they were being deadnamed or misgendered without revealing those details to the reader. How did you arrive at this method?

Ronnie Riley: It was important to me that we never learn their dead name or assigned gender at birth, that Jude could be just Jude. I don’t even know it, to be honest. I flipped back and forth a few times during the drafting process and realized that it doesn’t matter — they’re Jude, they’re nonbinary, and that’s what matters. During the early stages, I believe I italicized the name and gendered words, but one of my editors suggested we bold them instead. I really loved that suggestion and how it looks on the page, so I’m happy we moved forward with it.

GC: Jude Saves the World covers such a wide range of situations kids may find tough to navigate, such as divorce, mental health, friendship breakups, and more, yet the narrative is never anything less than hopeful and reassuring. How did you find a balance between the positive tone of the book and the need to have hard conversations?

RR: I think it’s important for everyone — but especially kids — to know that no matter how dark life can get, there’s still hope. Hope is what keeps us moving forward. When I was trying to find a balance between hope and hard conversations, it all came down to: kindness, empathy, and compassion. Being kind, empathetic, and compassionate are all things Jude values, so they see people and situations through that lens. It’s something I personally strive towards every day.

GC: One moment that really stood out to me came when Barnaby, an older man who joins the Safe Space club, educates Jude and Dallas a bit about Marsha P. Johnson as they’ve never heard of her — despite her prominence as an activist. What are some of your favorite resources for young readers interested in learning more about queer history, and which historical queer figure do you think Jude would look up to most?

RR: One of the reasons I wrote the scene where Barnaby educates Jude and Dallas about Marsha P. Johnson is because I grew up in a small town and never heard of her until I was in my early twenties. Learning about her and everything she did for the queer community was eye-opening for me. I hope that other generations have the ability to be educated more about queer history than I was, because I knew nothing about it for a long time.

Queer Events (QE) is a great [Canadian] resource that lays out important events and dates. And LGBTQ Reads has a list of non-fiction books for all ages. However, for young readers, I’d recommend No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives And Secret Loves by Lee Wind and The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out In The Streets by Gayle E. Pitman.

I think Jude would look up to Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera for their work, especially since they co-founded STAR. They’d think that was cool and aspire to do something similar. I also think they’d be a big fan of Freddie Mercury, because he was openly himself.

GC: To me, one of Jude’s greatest triumphs is the creation of the Rosedeen Safe Space. Do you have any advice for kids who don’t have a similar group in their area, whether it’s for starting one of their own, or for simply finding community if that isn’t an option?

RR: Thank you for a great question. If you’re like Jude and want to create a safe space, write down all your ideas and talk with a trusted adult (whether that’s at school, a library, or elsewhere) for help on getting it started. If you wish to find a community that already exists, I would encourage you to talk to the people at your local community center, library, or school to see what programs they have and maybe research online to find the right fit for you.

GC: If you can, tell us a bit about what you’re working on next! If not, tell us about what you’d do if 12-year-old you had an opportunity to hang out with Jude and their friends?

RR: I have some exciting news for a project I can’t talk about yet — it’s perfect for those who are fans of Jude Saves the World. It features a nonbinary main character who is more introverted and messier than Jude, and it’s filled with lots of queer friendships, joy, and hope. Keep an eye out for an announcement soon!

Jude Saves the World by Ronnie Riley (Scholastic, 9781338855876, Hardcover Middle Grade, $18.99) On Sale: 4/18/2023.

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