Grief. It’s universal, but something that each of us experiences in our own way. And while there’s no real antidote for managing the pain of losing someone or something we love, books that tackle the topic with heart, authenticity and gorgeous writing can help us feel heard and understood. And maybe even make life feel a bit more bearable if not beautiful.
Following her raw and riveting debut (and bestselling) novel, Girl in Pieces, Kathleen Glasgow delivers on all counts with her young adult novel, How to Make Friends With the Dark (Delacorte Press, April 2019).
With a strong voice and plot, How to Make Friends With the Dark captures the powerful emotions of 16-year-old Tiger who experiences a devastating loss that upends her life. Here’s a description of the book from Indie Bound:
Here is what happens when your mother dies.
It’s the brightest day of summer and it’s dark outside. It’s dark in your house, dark in your room, and dark in your heart. You feel like the darkness is going to split you apart.
That’s how it feels for Tiger. It’s always been Tiger and her mother against the world. Then, on a day like any other, Tiger’s mother dies. And now it’s Tiger, alone.
Here is how you learn to make friends with the dark.
Glasgow was kind enough to answer a few questions via email about her compelling new novel.
EZ: How was the experience writing your second novel different from the first in terms of your process and emotions?
KG: How to Make Friends With the Dark was, in many ways, a much more personal story to me than Girl in Pieces. When people ask how much of me is in Charlie in Girl in Pieces, I like to say that I gave her my scars, but her story is her own. With How to Make Friends With the Dark, I was writing from a really different, primal place: my mother and my sister died within four years of each other and the tsunami of grief that settled over me has never left. I’ve lived with that grief for eleven years now and I had to write it, which was very difficult and slow-going. In terms of process, once I figured the story out after many years, Girl in Pieces came out in a torrent of writing/emotion.
EZ: Why did you have to write this book?
KG: Grief is not one-size-fits-all. People have very different reactions to death and the grieving process. People are uncomfortable with grief, either feeling it or experiencing it through other people. I wanted to write the story of a girl who loses the most important thing in her life: her mother. I wanted to write what it was like to learn how to live without that guiding influence. Who will help you learn how to get along in life? Who will soothe you when you have heartbreak? Explain sex and relationships? (This is where Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights comes into the book.) And I was consumed with Tiger’s half-sister, Shayna. How would you feel being twenty and suddenly entrusted with the care of a sixteen-year-old? There are so many children being raised by non-primary relatives, I felt it was important to examine that aspect of this story.
EZ: What’s the best part about writing fiction for you? And about writing fiction especially for young adults?
KG: Once I get going, I get a natural high from writing. I could write for hours. It’s the one thing I have always loved: getting lost in a story and surrounding myself with these interesting people. I like writing for young adults because they are so open to the world and to new stories and new experiences. They crave learning different things. Reading books about certain experiences is also a way for them to experience some things safely, to test them out through fiction, and to give them a safe space to explore and think.
EZ: The responses to your first book, Girl in Pieces, continue to be phenomenal—especially among high schoolers. What are you most proud of about having written such a raw, moving book that resonates with and lends a voice to something painful and real to so many?
KG: So many teens (and adults) write to me and say, “Thank you for saying how this feels.” And the thing is, the “this” they mention is not just or only about Charlie’s self-harm, it’s about her loneliness, her feeling of being out of place in the world, her body issues, her craving for love. Readers say, “I don’t cut, but I feel like Charlie, anyway.” When I wrote Girl in Pieces, I knew that I wanted to be honest about what it feels like to be that lonely and that hurt, and I dove in all the way because I felt like teens needed that honesty. I wish more people talked openly about self-harm. I am in awe of the continued success of this book and I’m utterly grateful to readers and educators.
EZ: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
KG: “You have to write through it.” You can take this anyway you want.
EZ: What are some must-haves in your writing space?
KG: Um. I have two kids so my writing space is a desk shoved in the corner by the television and kitty-corner to the couch. It is always covered in toys and kid detritus. Must-haves are basic: a composition book and a pen and a cup of coffee.
EZ: What habits, practices and conditions fuel your creativity?
KG: Panic. Panic fuels my creativity. As a single parent, my writing time is limited to moments when my kids are away or when they are asleep, so I have to write furiously in a limited amount of time. Walking my dog helps me focus and think about scenes I need to revamp. Hot yoga gives me energy and clears my brain.
EZ: What are you reading, watching and listening to now? (3 favorites for each?)
KG: I’m reading As Many Nows As I Can Get by Shana Youngdahl (it comes out next fall). I’m currently watching Better Things and dying at how well Pamela Adlon recreates single motherhood. The current playlist in my car includes Wilco, the Annie Soundtrack, Hamilton, the audiobook of SuperFudge, Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits, Taylor Swift’s 1989. My kids are great sing-alongers, so they control the music.
To learn more about Kathleen Glasgow and Making Friends With the Dark and her other work, visit her website.
Disclosure: Delacorte Press was kind enough to send me an Advance Review Copy of How to Make Friends With the Dark.