I am so excited to have a special guest on the blog! Marisa Reichardt, author of the new book A Shot at Normal, is here today to answer a few questions! I absolutely loved A Shot at Normal, and think you should read it to! Already timely with its conversations involving the anti-vaxxer movement, it's even more relevant now that we're in the middle of a global pandemic and vaccination campaign. And make sure to read to the end, as Marisa has graciously offered to sponsor a giveaway for a copy of A Shot at Normal!
Author: Marisa Reichardt
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (BYR)
Release: February 16, 2021
Review: 5 Stars
Dr. Villapando told me to get a good attorney. He wasn't serious. But I am. I'm going to sue my parents.
Juniper Jade's parents are hippies. They didn’t attend the first Woodstock, but they were there for the second one. The Jade family lives an all-organic homeschool lifestyle that means no plastics, no cell phones, and no vaccines. It isn’t exactly normal, but it’s the only thing Juniper has ever known. She doesn’t agree with her parents on everything, but she knows that to be in this family, you've got to stick to the rules. That is, until the unthinkable happens.
Juniper contracts the measles and unknowingly passes the disease along, with tragic consequences. She is shell-shocked. Juniper knows she is responsible and feels simultaneously helpless and furious at her parents, and herself.
Now, with the help of Nico, the boy who works at the library and loves movies and may just be more than a friend, Juniper comes to a decision: she is going to get vaccinated. Her parents refuse so Juniper arms herself with a lawyer and prepares for battle. But is waging war for her autonomy worth losing her family? How much is Juniper willing to risk for a shot at normal?
Marisa Reichardt's A Shot at Normal is a powerful and timely novel about justice, agency, family, and taking your shot, even when it seems impossible.
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1. In the book, Juniper has to deal with parents who won't get her or her siblings vaccinated. The topic was already a timely subject, but is even more so with the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccine. What do you hope readers take from the book given *waves hands* everything?
I really hope readers who have grappled with the issue of vaccination will be inspired by Juniper’s story. I especially hope teens who don’t have a voice in the decision of their vaccinations will be inspired enough to research their options (*waves illuminated beacons in the direction of the VaxTeen.org website like an aircraft marshaller directing a plane*). I’ve always believed A Shot at Normal would be an important book with valuable things to say, but to have it come out in the midst of a global vaccination effort as we try to get a handle on a deadly virus makes it all the more meaningful.
2. Juniper has to make some tough decisions about her relationship with her family. How did you balance what's realistic and what Juniper wanted with what would feel cathartic to an author or reader?
I wouldn’t say I made a conscious decision to maintain balance. To me, all of the arguments Juniper had with her parents were realistic and realistic scenarios are often the most cathartic.
3. If a teen in a similar position as Juniper picks up A Shot at Normal, is there anything in particular you hope they take away from the book?
I think the teen years are when people most often question their parents. As we become more independent and learn more and are exposed to more information and ideas, it’s easy to start questioning what you know. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “My parents always buy ranch dressing and I discovered I like Italian dressing.” Sometimes it’s much bigger, involving religion or politics or morals. My hope is that readers will understand it’s typical to question your parents when you’re a teenager and it’s okay to grow into your own beliefs. I also hope, like Juniper, they will consider reaching out to a trusted adult for help if they need it.
4. I've hit you with some hardballs, so how about something fun. What recently released and upcoming YA books are you looking forward to reading? I know my list is a mile long!
Oh, wow, there were so many awesome books this year that I don’t even know where to begin. We were spoiled, really. All these books were a balm for a challenging year. Some YA books I especially loved were Jeff Garvin’s The Lightness of Hands, Brandy Colbert’s The Voting Booth, Laura Taylor Namey’s A Cuban Girls Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, and Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s All Eyes on Her. I’m really looking forward to Smoke by Darcy Woods, You'd Be Home By Now by Kathleen Glasgow, Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler, You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao and The Hill We Climb debut poetry collection by Amanda Gorman. I’m also super excited for adult debuts by some of my favorite YA authors like Shea Ernshaw, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, and Rachel Lynn Solomon as well as the books I know friends are working on that haven’t been announced yet. Shhh.
5. If Juniper were to hang out with a character from another YA book, who do you think she'd get along well with?
I think she’d get along great with Marva Sheridan of The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert. Marva is a fellow teen who has worked hard to spread the word of the importance of voting. I truly believe Juniper is only at the beginning of her journey. I see her continuing to fight for justice for many people in many ways. Marva and Juniper could do amazing work together.
6. Some of the adults in A Shot at Normal actively try to help Juniper (like Nico's mom), some think they're helping but are actually hurting her (like her parents), and some blame Juniper for her parents’ actions (like at the farmer's market). How did you go about writing these characters and figuring out the adults in Juniper's life?
Ah, yes, adults in YA. They’re hard sometimes! Just like anyone else, they come with their own positives and negatives. Juniper’s parents believe they’re coming from a place of love and working in the best interests of their kids, but a lot of people would disagree. Then you have angry adults at the farmers’ market who aren’t sure where to direct their ire, which I think can happen when you’re afraid and don’t have crystal clear answers. I also wanted to put adults like Juniper’s grandparents and her attorney into the mix because it’s important to emphasize that there are people who are willing to help be a voice for teens who so often get written off simply because they’re teenagers.
7. Do you see potential for a sequel story about Juniper or her siblings, or does it end with the end of the book?
Juniper’s story absolutely lives on in my head. But as to whether or not that spills onto the page is a whole other matter.
8. Juniper's siblings have a hard time understanding why she makes the decisions she does, seeing her as causing discord in the family. How was it writing these family dynamics, and was it difficult putting Juniper through all of it?
I continuously felt pained for Juniper but also extremely proud of her. I wish I’d been as sure of what I wanted as a teenager. Juniper makes tough decisions and sacrifices, but she really believes in what she’s fighting for and I admire that. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Juniper’s parents. They frustrated and fascinated me. They were trying so hard to come from a place of care but they were misinformed and disillusioned and, worst of all, stubborn.
9. Did you have to do any research while writing the book? What books, fiction or nonfiction, do you think would pair well as companion reads with A Shot at Normal?
My research first started with seeing people I actually knew choosing not to vaccinate their kids. I started wondering what that might look like when those kids became teenagers. Will they be resentful? was the question that kept popping up in my head. And if they do become resentful, what might that look like? From those thoughts, Juniper happened. Like Juniper, I talked to attorneys. I also read articles about the rights of unvaccinated minors and interviewed some pediatricians. Honestly, much like Juniper experiences, many of these encounters felt like coming up against a brick wall. And, like Juniper, I was frustrated. I wanted a solution outside of emancipation. I was essentially doing my research along with Juniper and it was a discovery process for both of us. As for companions, I’ve seen a some mentions of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper in relation to A Shot at Normal, so I think that could be a fantastic book pairing, not to mention a huge honor. Any books, fiction or non-fiction, about teens fighting for justice would be great companion reads.
10. A Shot at Normal is your third book. What has it been like to progress from debut to established author?
It’s no less terrifying. Every book feels like I’m putting a raw and vulnerable piece of myself into the world. People can love it or hate it. It isn’t mine anymore. That’s the hard part, but it’s also exhilarating. I do think of myself as someone who is still learning with every book I write. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert. I want to keep asking hard questions and challenging myself with structure and execution and ideas. I think that’s what keeps art interesting.
You Can Find Her At:
One signed copy of A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt (US Only)
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