Hey fellow book-nerds! It’s James, and today I’m joined by New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp. She’s a coffee-loving cat lady who’s been a passionate advocate for making YA literature more inclusive of marginalized groups. Her debut novel, This Is Where It Ends, tells the story of four teens who are victims of a school shooting, and her new novel, Before I Let Go, focuses on a girl who’s mourning the mysterious death of her best friend. It came out earlier this year, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should definitely stop by your local bookstore today! Let’s get to the interview!
James: Hey Marieke! I'm so excited to have you with me today on #BeyondTheBio! Your new book Before I Let Go just hit bookshelves at the beginning of the year. Can you give our readers an overview of what they can expect?
Marieke: Before I Let Go is a haunting young adult murder mystery set during a cruel Alaskan winter. It follows Corey, as she returns to her former hometown of Lost Creek to investigate her best friend's death. It's about stories and stars. And it's altogether creepy and uncomfortable.
James: Was the town of Lost Creek based off an actual town?
Marieke: No, it's entirely fiction. But the location itself is real, and it's the location of an Alaskan ghost town (former gold rush settlement). All of my fictional towns are written that way.
James: One of the things I really appreciated was the way you deconstructed the idea of inspiration porn, especially when it comes to mental illness. Why was that important for you?
Marieke: Simply put: because inspiration porn is othering and dehumanizing. As a disabled author--as a disabled person--I'm all too aware of the ways disabled people have been portrayed in fiction. I'm all too aware of (and have felt) how that portrayal has real life consequences. I've often talked about it, but that didn't always feel like it did enough. I wanted my book to be in conversation with those portrayals. I wanted it to be a counterweight to inspiration porn within the realm of fiction too.
James: Corey really is one of the few people who value Kyra for more than her art. Even in the midst of tragedy, there were so many moments when I felt like their relationship was total goals. In your mind, what are the ingredients for a good friendship?
Marieke: I'd say... probably understanding, support, and honestly. The latter wasn't always the case with Corey and Kyra, but they more than made up for it with their compassion and support. And honestly, I love writing friendships. They're my favorite types of relationships.
James: Corey's also one of the only asexual characters in YA fiction so far this year. As I read, I couldn't help but wonder... Is she aromantic as well?
Marieke: Don't forget about Claire Kann's wonderful Let's Talk About Love! But to answer your question: I do imagine Corey is aro as well. She's just on the cusp of figuring out her own identity though, and asexual is the first word she comes across. The first time she feels recognized. I imagine she'll go on to fine-tune it and figure out what fits her best, but she isn't quite there yet. It was much the same way for me too.
James: So are you more of a Corey or a Kyra?
Marieke: Though I share an ace identity with Corey and I'm as much a sports geek and she is, I'm far more of a Kyra on pretty much all levels.
James: What are some other books you'd recommend for people who loved Before I Let Go and are looking for other YA mysteries?
Marieke: For mystery: Tess Sharpe's Far From You is honestly a perennial favorite. Also, everything Stephanie Kuehn writes, but maybe specifically When I Am Through With You. For heartbreaking stories about grief: Adam Silvera's History Is All You Left Me. For stories set in Alaska: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's The Smell of Other People's Houses and Debby Dahl Edwardson's My Name Is Not Easy.
James: Any advice for teens out there who hope to become authors themselves one day?
Marieke: Read a lot. Read all over. Read more. Read critically. And then keep reading.
James: What's next for you, Marieke? Any future projects you can tell us about?
Marieke: Next up for me is the anthology I edited: Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. All the authors who contributed to the anthology are disabled themselves, and I can tell you now, the stories are absolutely amazing! I'm so excited to share this with the rest of the world, come September!
That’s it for today’s interview with Marieke, but be sure to come back next week when we’ll be hosting Adrienne Young as she talks about her pulse-pounding fantasy Sky In The Deep. If you liked Wonder Woman or the TV show Vikings, you definitely don’t want to miss this one!