Wednesday, February 9, 2011
CAMO GIRL, Kekla’s tween novel, just out with Aladdin, is the story of sixth grade outcast Ella. Ella finds herself caught between her old best friend Zach, who is increasingly lost in a fantasy world, and a beckoning popular crowd. Her dilemma: she can only fit in if she leaves “Z” behind.
This story is notable for what you chose to leave out as much as what you included. Can you speak to that?
Yes, I left out Z’s official psychiatric diagnosis, and the name of Ella’s skin condition, which created camouflage-like lighter and darker patches on her face. Her POV was such a close one, that I didn’t think it was realistic for her to know Z’s diagnosis. And it wasn’t crucial to the story that I focus on the nature of Ella’s skin disorder. I preferred to concentrate on the ways that kids deal with trauma. Thus, the title CAMO refers to her skin’s light patches; but also to the ways that Ella hides from her budding social life, and how Zach uses his fantasy world to avoid working through his family trauma. Even Bailey, the new boy, who helps Ella take a chance on getting to know the popular kids, has a secret he’s hiding from. *no spoiler here!*
What theme in CAMO GIRL would you most like kids to come away with?
The feeling of self-acceptance, coming to terms with both your strengths and weaknesses. Also, I’d like kids to consider what it means to be a friend: it may mean keeping a friend’s secret, only to reveal it in time. Ella thought that keeping Z’s secret was helping him, but she learned that it ultimately hurt him by preventing him from getting treatment. Also, by remaining “loyal” to him, she stilted her own social growth. Kekla has vivid memories of the tension of trying to straddle two groups, who did not necessarily like each other. That’s why she jokes that this novel could be called How to Choose a Lunch Table.
Regarding humor, I love the feisty grandma. How did you think up her awesome name?
Funny you should ask. I was on a road trip and brainstorming with my friend about what I should name her. I sprinkled Splenda in my coffee, and read the label out loud. My friend said, “Sounds like an old lady’s name, but you’d never name the granny that.”
“Oh, yeah?” I replied. “Watch me!”
Are you more of a realistic fiction author or what?
I’m writing for the child that I was, who wanted to know more about how to negotiate the real world. In that sense, I’m a writer of realistic fiction. I realize, though, that fantasy also describes the real world, in allegorical terms. So who knows? I may try my hand at another genre if it’s the best vehicle for my theme.
What’s up next for you? And how can your readers stay updated?
I have two books coming out in 2012. The first is a YA with Holt, called 37 THINGS I LOVE. The second is FIRE IN THE STREETS, a middle-grade companion book to THE ROCK AND THE RIVER, (ALA Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award) published by Aladdin. Please stop by my website to say hello and get updates at: www.keklamagoon.com.