Danielle Snyder's summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, the five-year-old boy she's watching, runs in front of oncoming traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, outsiders use the accident to further a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn Humphrey, the sweet kid she had a surprisingly strong friendship with, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her. Through a new relationship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, she begins to work through her grief, but as details of the accident emerge, much is not as it seems. It's time for Danielle to face reality, but when the truth brings so much pain, can she find a way to do right by Humphrey's memory and forgive herself for his death?
ReadingNook Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
-What was your inspiration behind this book, did the idea just come to you, or is based on personal events?
There were multiple inspirations. And the idea just came to me. And it is based on personal events.
The inspirations: When I look back at my little writing notebook from 2008-9, it’s clear I was thinking about outsider-ness. About otherness. I wasn’t thinking about this in the abstract, but rather in the context of a character who presented herself, who turned out to be Imperfect Spiral’s Danielle Snyder. I was interested in a character, a teenager, who just feels like she’s lagging behind, not special, undirected, and awkward. You know. Like lots of us have felt. (Or maybe I should just speak for myself!) And then I thought, what if something happened to her that compounded her otherness, but also contained the seeds of change? That’s where the terrible and terribly sad accident comes in. While Danielle is babysitting Humphrey Danker, he is fatally struck by a car. As a result, she becomes, in some ways, even more of an outsider, even more different, and not in a good way. But she is also eventually moved by what happened to Humphrey take control of her life and to effect change in it.
Since I can’t really discern why these ideas—what I’m calling the inspirations—occurred to me, however, the answer to your question is also that the idea for the book just came to me out of the blue. . . .
And since I have certainly in my life—and definitely as a teenager—shared Danielle’s uncomfortable self-appraisal, the answer to your question is also that the book is based on personal events. Okay, maybe not so much specific personal events (although some are in there!), but personal familiarity with some of the traits I’ve given my protagonist. And my interest in “otherness”—which led me to want to weave in the illegal immigration thread that runs through the story—probably has roots in the fact that I’m the daughter of a refugee.
Humphrey is a really unique character name, is there a particular method you use to name characters? Or do you just go with the creative flow?
Go with the flow. Humphrey’s name was always Humphrey. Always Humphrey P. Danker. I have no idea why, but it fits him.
As for other names, Danielle’s was Danielle very early on, but I played with other names—Ruth, Aimee, Cherie, Taniqua—when I was thinking about her character in different ways. But as soon as she became who she became, her first name was clear to me.
Then there’s her friend Marissa. Ah, Marissa. Marissa went through multiple first names, mostly because my editor didn’t favor the name I gave Marissa initially, maybe because. . . it happened to be, by pure coincidence, my editor’s name, too? I wasn’t wedded to that first name—it wasn’t an important creative choice—so I tried out other names and settled on Marissa. Which turned out to be just right, as names usually are. (Except, I was recently reminded while watching one of my favorite Bette Davis movies, the character of her love interest in Now, Voyager. He’s played by Paul Henreid, and his name is “Jerry.” Jerry is a perfectly fine name. My brother-in-law is named Jerry. But Paul Henreid is no Jerry.)
If you weren't writing, what would you be doing?
Professionally: I’d love to be a children’s book editor.
Playing: I’d like to be a fishing guide. I’m not claiming to be qualified to do this.
What is your favorite genre to read, and what are some of your favorite books or books that inspired you yourself to start writing?
I prefer realistic fiction. It can be contemporary or historical. On the other hand, I *love* The Wind in the Willows, which we really can’t call realistic fiction, can we? Oh, Ratty! Oh, Mole! Oh, I am inconsistent in my likes!
I also like nonfiction that reads like a story, but without playing fast and loose with facts.
Okay, some favorite books: My favorite book of this century is Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. You can read about my ardent fandom in this blog post. My favorite book of the previous century is probably Crossing To Safety, by Wallace Stegner. These are both novels I re-read periodically. They quicken my pulse—not because they are action-packed, but because they are packed with intelligence, insight, and writing that makes me stop in my tracks.
My favorite YA book is To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.