Who are your favorite role models in fiction and why?
There's a moment in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
where Huck is trying to decide whether to turn in his friend, Jim, who has bravely escaped slavery. Huck believes in the social norms he's been taught—that it's wrong to help Jim escape. In fact, Huck believes that he will be damned to hell for all eternity if he doesn't turn Jim in. And after struggling with his conscience, Huck says at last, "All right, then. I'll go to hell," and decides not to turn Jim in. By overcoming the warped conscience of his social order, Huck becomes a hero. I wish for the courage that both Jim and Huck show in that novel.
You’ve spoken publicly about your struggles with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. What books would you recommend for teens struggling with these or other mental illnesses—stories that might help them feel less alone?
On the nonfiction side, I love the book The Man Who Couldn't Stop
, which is a very accessible introduction to OCD. There are many wonderful novels about young people living with mental illness. My favorites include Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar
, Nina Lacour's Hold Still
, E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List
, and Neal Shusterman's Challenger Deep
When you interviewed Bill and me in 2016
, you asked about the superpowers we wish we had. (Spoiler alert: I said “more time.”) That got me wondering, if John Green were a character in one of your books, what superpower would you give him?
For me, the weirdest thing about being a person is that I have just this one self. I'm stuck for my entire existence inside of one particular consciousness, looking at the world through only one set of eyes. I tend to imagine even the people who are closest to me in the context of myself—MY kids, MY spouse, and so on. We can work toward imagining other people with more clarity. We can learn to listen better. But if I could have a superpower, it would be to really know from the inside what it's like to have lives other than my own.
What an amazing, big-hearted answer. I love that. As anyone who has read your writing knows, you clearly work hard at imagining the lives of your characters with not just clarity but detail and a tremendous amount of empathy. Last question: what gives you hope? What do you do to maintain your optimism?
I really believe that hope is the correct response to the miracle of human consciousness. There are so many encouraging trends in recent human history—absolute poverty and infant mortality are in decline. More kids are in school.