Shana Youngdahl: “I Think Our Whole World Needs Some of That Youthful Optimism Right Now”

5 Questions With...

Shana Youngdahl
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[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Shana Youngdahl and ask her five(ish) questions. Shana’s novel ‘As Many Nows As I Can Get is out now!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Shana: It was more a case of inspirations than a singular event which I suppose is just as it should be in a book where the main character is physics-minded. These multiple inspirations were thinking about how people’s lives go in different directions or get derailed, teaching a first-year college seminar on pregnancy and birth, having lots of interesting conversations with eighteen-year-olds, and living in rural Maine during the opioid crisis.

What character do you most relate to and why?

Definitely Scarlett. She has trouble seeing herself completely which I think is something many of us can relate to. She gets so paralyzed by mistakes that she has trouble righting them. I think for a lot of women this is the case. The myth of perfection is pretty hard to keep pushing against. Sometimes the constant feeling of never-being-able-to-live-up to impossible standards can result in near paralysis.

Why do you feel young adult books are so popular and have such a voice right now?

There are a few reasons and the first and probably main one is that YA books in every genre often have hope at the end even if a bleak world is depicted. There is a lot of possibility to life when you are nineteen and younger, and I think our whole world needs some of that youthful optimism right now. Adult readers go to YA for this, but also for the sense of returning to a time when the possibilities of our own lives were wider. I’m a big believer in never retiring and doing everything I can to keep a sense of possibility in my life no matter what my age is, but I’m aware that by this point in my life some choices just have been made and cannot be undone. A friend of mine said she loves to read YA because she was so shy in her youth and she likes meeting these powerful young people in books. So maybe it all comes down to this: young people have power, we should listen to them, and believe that the world will get better for them despite things seeming rather glum.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.

As Many Nows As I Can Get tells the story of Scarlett’s charged summer before college and the fallout from her sudden romance with long-time academic rival David, best friend of her first-love, Cody. This YA Contemporary is told non-linearly to mirror Scarlett’s understanding of time, the book recounts the end of Scarlett’s time in high school, her final summer and her first year of college. It’s sad but hopeful and ultimately about self-acceptance, forgiveness and love.

What’s next for you in the book world?

That’s top secret! But I’ll give you a hint, I’m working on another YA Contemporary about what home and family means and how we learn to define ourselves with and against this. It’s been informed by the destruction of my hometown by the Camp Fire.

Who is your favorite writer right now and why?

Unfair question! I love so many writers. I can tell you a few prose writers I always return to are Louise Erdrich and Margaret Atwood. In YA I’ll read anything by Jandy Nelson and Nina LaCour, and am excited to watch Mary H.K. Choi’s career. Her debut YA, Emergency Contact is a really important book in terms of discussing electronically mediated reality and its impact on our relationships both positive and negative. I can’t wait to teach it in the fall and discuss it with students. All of these writers are interested in characters who may have deep flaws, but we learn to love them anyway, and they’re all commenting on larger social issues while keeping humanity central. I’m also always reading poetry, Adrienne Rich has remained a go-to poet since high school for stunning feminist verse even though I didn’t put any of her lines in Scarlett’s poetry-spouting college roommate’s mouth.

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