Interview: Claire LaZebnik on Parents in YA Literature

22864829On Thursday I published a review for Wrong About the Guy, a charming novel by Claire LaZebnik about Ellie and the struggles she faces with her family and friends.

Her stepfather became a television star, so she has to deal with the bittersweet privileges that come with a life of luxury. I really liked seeing that, even though sometimes it seemed to get to her head, she always came back down to earth when it was time to help people she loved.

This novel felt different to me because it touched on the subjects of family and autism, rare topics in YA literature. I’m very excited that I got to ask the author some questions. Find Wrong About The Guy on Goodreads; it’s definitely worth a read!


I haven’t read a lot of YA books recently with a tight family element in them, and this book is more unique because Luke is Ellie’s stepfather and they get along so well. Do you think there should be a greater focus on family in YA books?

Yes, I do, although I understand why many authors choose to have main characters who are alone in the world: It heightens the drama and creates a metaphor for becoming an adult and having to strike out on your own. My kids used to watch the cartoon RugRats and that show made it clear that while parents are great and all, the real adventures only happen when they’re away and the kids are in control—I think a lot of people under the age of 25 basically feel that way, and a lot of YA authors reflect that by having characters who are alone in the world and have to deal with everything by themselves. But that doesn’t reflect either my reality or my kids’—family is very important to us and while I want my kids to venture out in the world and be independent, I also want them to know that I’m always here for them, both for emergencies and also as a touchstone. So my characters tend to have some sense of connection to their parents and siblings: they may not tell them everything, but they acknowledge they’re important to them.

The subject of Jacob’s possible autism really brings Ellie’s family together. Their reactions were realistic–for example, Luke’s denial. What message would you like to send a family in this situation?

I’ve actually counseled a lot of families in this situation, believe it or not—I also write non-fiction books about autism and people frequently email me or ask me to speak about it. I always say the same thing: you don’t have to accept the label of autism if you don’t want to, but you do have to accept the fact that your child may need support in some areas. If your child has a concerning speech delay, you should be taking him to a highly recommended speech therapist. If he throws unusually violent temper tantrums, you should be consulting with a behaviorist. You need to help your child be the best he can be—that’s the goal of parenting for all of us. And part of that is recognizing the areas that your child needs support in. There is value to a diagnosis of autism, though—you can refuse to use the label if you want, but you can get a lot of these therapeutic services paid for by either insurance or your school system if you accept it! And, of course, most importantly, TALK to each other. Make decisions together. Be honest about how the situation is affecting you. It’s important to pull together—not apart—at these times.

What’s your favorite place to write? Do you go outside with a notebook or stay in with your laptop and some coffee? Describe your workdesk!

So I actually have a little office with a big wooden desk in it . . . and I NEVER use it. Never. Mostly because I have to sit down at it, and I do a lot of work sitting up. Also, it’s in a corner of the upstairs and I like to be downstairs where everyone else is. I get lonely. So I do ninety percent of my writing in our dining room, mostly on this wheeled cabinet (okay, it’s actually a bar) because it’s the right height for me to stand at and work on. Plus, if I’m writing something really intense (or my feet hurt), I can sit down at the dining room table. The other place I like to work is at my local Starbucks: it’s a half hour walk there from my house, so I sling my laptop in a messenger bag across my shoulders and haul myself there by foot. Once I’m there, I buckle down and try to get something meaningful done before walking back home. It’s a nice mixture of getting exercise and getting work done. And there’s ALWAYS coffee and a pastry of some sort. Always. I don’t understand how people write without coffee. Or how they can drink coffee without something sweet to eat with it!

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One Comment

  1. It’s great to hear about how autism is featured in a YA book! I work with three different autistic children right now, and it’s really made me aware of how stereotyped autism is the rare times it shows up in literature and movies.

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