Hey! Sasha here! I’m joined today by the incredible Ashley Blake! She’s not only a reader and a writer, but she’s also a mother of two rambunctious boys! She’s got lots on her hands but she’s impressed us all by all her work, including her novels, Suffer Love, How To Make A Wish, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World, and Girl Made Of Stars-- out Tuesday. It made me laugh and it made me cry and you definitely don’t want to miss out on reading it! You may remember Ashley from an interview she did with us last year. Let’s get to the interview! And stick around until the end for a chance to win some awesome book swag from Ashley herself!
Girl Made Of Stars was definitely an emotional roller-coaster of a book. Could you give our readers a brief description of what it’s about?
Hi Sasha, I’m so happy to talk with you today! Thanks for the opportunity. Girl Made of Stars is about a girl named Mara whose twin brother is accused of raping her friend, Hannah. As Mara struggles with family loyalty and her belief in Hannah, Mara has to face her own trauma and secrets.
Throughout this novel, the characters went through multiple issues such as figuring out their gender, sexual abuse, and trusting others. I can only imagine how difficult it was to write about all of these topics. How would you describe your experience writing this book?
Really, really hard. Every book is different, but I can say with honesty that it was the most emotionally difficult book I’ve written so far. That being said, I really needed to write this book, and I drafted it pretty fast. “It just fell out of me” is a term you hear writers use sometimes and that was the case with Girl Made of Stars. Although, it fell out of my quite painfully. I cried a lot while writing it, but I don’t think I could’ve written it honestly if I hadn’t.
Mara sees the good in everybody, even though she went through something very traumatizing. Where did you get the inspiration to write such a resilient character?
Oh, wow, I’m glad you see Mara as so resilient! I didn’t set out to write her that way, though. I think that resilience comes to her as she realizes she’s not alone, as she learns to see her own worth, as she starts to trust people. At the onset, I think she’s terrified and hiding a lot of her true self, which displays itself through this mask of strength and fire. But she gets there. I really wanted to write a book where women and queer teens took care of each other and that, in my opinion, is the source of Mara’s resilience.
The three words, “I believe you,” come up a lot throughout the book. What do they mean to you?
Three little words, but really powerful ones. For victims of sexual assault, these words mean everything. They validate not only your experience, but your humanity as well. Your worth. To say that we don’t believe victims of sexual assault is not a simple thing. It is not only saying you think a person is lying. It is dismissing pain, it is dismissing a person’s value. It is dismissing their autonomy and right to feel safe, their right to their own bodies and minds. So, to say, “I believe you” is to validate all of those things. It mean sharing pain, it means the first step to healing and hope. Because if you experience a trauma, and no one believes you, I think it is hard—I won’t say impossible, because I have to have hope in those situations too—to process what happened to you and heal.
One of your characters, Charlie, was trying to figure out who they were. They never felt comfortable by being labeled specifically as a boy or a girl. What inspired you to include Charlie in your book?
Excellent question! First of all, I am not genderqueer, so I had a lot of help writing Charlie. The simple answer is, when I was creating Charlie, that is simply who they were. The more methodical answer is, I wanted to include Charlie’s story because there aren’t a whole lot of them out there. Genderqueer teens in YA are few and far between—though there are more and more every year—and I wanted to provide a bit of a mirror for those readers. That being said, Charlie is not my main character. Charlie’s story as the integral story of a book is not mine to tell. In writing Charlie, I did a lot of research, a lot of listening, and had readers to check every single one of Charlie’s words and thoughts that they voiced. I simply hoped to widen readers experience with queer teen characters and offer a little hope for genderqueer readers as well. In the book, Charlie’s pronouns are she/her. She’s not out to her parents, but, if I know Charlie, I can absolutely see her adopting they/them in the future, as she even mentions she might in the book.
What advice would you give to young adults who can relate to Charlie by never feeling comfortable with their assigned gender?
Oh wow, as I’m not genderqueer, I’m not sure I have any great advice to give. I will say that you’re okay, whoever you are and however you feel. There are so many great genderqueer voices out there who would be great to listen to. But, as a queer cis person, I will just leave it at that for now: You are okay.
Mara and Owen have a special connection with stars and looking at the night sky, and Mara refers to herself as ‘the girl made of stars.’ Do stars symbolize who you are as a person?
No, not at all. It was something that came to me as I was writing Mara, but that I think symbolizes how our culture views women generally. We aren’t real, right? We’re mythical beings, bodies to be used and tossed aside, not humans made of flesh and blood. I guess that may sound a little dramatic, but for Mara, shifting her view of herself from someone not worth hearing to a human girl was huge. I think it’s huge for all of us.
Mara goes to the graveyard as an escape from everything else going on. What is a place that you like to go to just to ease your mind when life gets tense?
My couch, with a book, most of the time! I also really like long walks, which I try to take several times a week. And, I have been known to drift through a graveyard or two.
This novel took me on a journey of emotions, and it’s definitely one that I would recommend to all my other book lovers. What are some other books you would suggest readers add to their lists?
Okay, here we go. I can’t go into all the reasons why I love each book, so I’ll try to stick to short phrases for each.
LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed. Absolutely gorgeous, raw, very real portrayal of a Muslim American girl in America.
FOOLISH HEARTS by Emma Mills. I cannot say enough about this book. It is simply delightful and I could spend the rest of my life with these characters and be happy.
LITTLE & LION by Brandy Colbert. I’ll ready anything by Brandy Colbert and this book beautifully addresses queerness and mental health, family and love.
DRESS CODES FOR SMALL TOWNS by Courtney Stevens. You know those books you love so much, you sort of hate them because you didn’t write them? Yes, that is this book for me. Voice, sexuality, friendship, small towns, identity, faith. It’s all there. Ugh, so good.
WE ARE OKAY by Nina LaCour. It’s Nina LaCour, enough said. But honestly, this might be a perfect book. Just saying.
LABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Córdova. Bi main character and rich, suspenseful, breathtaking world-building. One of my favorite fantasies of all time.
Okay Ashley, I know you already had another book come into the world this year. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your middle grade novel Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World?
Yes, I can! Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World is my first middle grade novel. It’s about a girl named Ivy whose house is destroyed by a tornado and, in the aftermath, begins to develop feelings for another girl at school. It’s all about identity and self-acceptance and friendship.
That’s it for today’s interview with Ashley, but don’t leave just yet. We’re giving away some Girl Made Of Stars swag, and you definitely don’t want to miss out. Just click on the image below to enter. And be sure to come back again next week, when Julie Anne will be chatting with Alyssa Sheinmel about her book, R.I.P Eliza Hart.