Are you up for a pre-book birthday celebration?
Great! Because I have the amazing Karen Rivers here to chat about her upcoming release A POSSIBILITY OF WHALES. Her book birthday is in six days.
Here’s a peek into Karen’s book.
The heartfelt story of a girl who–thanks to her friends, her famous single dad, and an unexpected encounter with a whale–learns the true meaning of family.
Twelve-year-old Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher loves possibilities: the possibility that she’ll see whales on the beach near her new home, the possibility that the trans-gender boy she just met will become her new best friend, the possibility that the paparazzi hounding her celebrity father won’t force them to move again. Most of all, Nat dreams of the possibility that her faraway mother misses her, loves her, and is just waiting for Nat to find her.
But how can Nat find her mother if she doesn’t even know who she is? She abandoned Nat as a baby, and Nat’s dad refuses to talk about it. Nat knows she shouldn’t need a mom, but she still feels like something is missing, and her questions lead her on a journey of self-discovery that will change her life forever.
In her unique, poignant narrative voice, Karen Rivers tells a heartwarming story about family, friendship, and growing up, perfect for readers of Katherine Applegate and Rebecca Stead.
Hi Karen! It’s wonderful to have you visit us. Did you always want to be a children’s author and what’s been your biggest surprise from doing so?
No, absolutely not. I honestly don’t think I would have thought it was possible. I didn’t even entertain the idea, although I was always writing. (It’s a bit of a mystery to me now, why I thought of authors as some realm of human beings so far above me that I didn’t even consider it.) I wanted to be a vet. At certain points, I thought about acting, about law, about medicine, but I didn’t really consider writing as a possibility until after I’d written a book and sold it (it was an adult book that I don’t think I started believing it would ever be anything) and only THEN did it occur to me that I could go back to my first love, which was the books that mattered the most to me in my life, which were the books that I read when I was in middle school and in high school.
The mere blurb of A Possibility of Whales made my heart flutter. What was it like writing this poignant story?
I loved writing every word of this book. I had wanted to write a book that was a nod to ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT’S ME, MARGARET, a book that was about puberty and that transitional feeling of being in-between childhood and adulthood, being uncertain and even afraid of what the physical changes mean. That was my starting point. But when I dug deeper, I thought about my own kids, and how hard it has been for my son to be the boy-child of a single mother as he navigates puberty, so I wanted to give my character a single dad. I love Nat’s dad, who was loosely inspired by The Rock (with a touch of Matthew McConaughey thrown in). I love their relationship, their tiny family, the way they are a unit, but also the way that he can’t be a mother to her, he can’t be everything she needs. I loved exploring the ways that she found what she needed with her friendship with Harry and with The Bird. I loved bringing Harry to life, giving him a voice to be himself and not just a token character. His story is also rich and full and he has so much to say. And of course, I love the whales, both literally and symbolically. It all came together in my head in this complete piece and every day I got to spend with these characters was a joy.
I love the family aspect of this story!
Nat is a hopeful soul, but she has a lot going on. How did you use her sense of hope, yet spotlight her internal conflicts without dousing her positive outlook? And what can your young readers learn from this?
At certain points, Nat has a choice where she could allow the rejection and loneliness to take over, and she always manages to reach the lifeboat before she sinks. I think that kids instinctively do this, certainly not consciously, especially if they do – like Nat – have an adult who is 100% on their side. I think it’s harder for kids who don’t have a parent like Nat’s dad, who are not getting that kind of love and support from at least one person. My son’s therapist is always reassuring me that it just takes one. Kids need ONE person who is an anchor in their life, who creates the scaffolding for them to safely be themselves. I hate to think of teaching young readers a lesson, it somehow becomes didactic if I’m conscious of it, but what I’m always trying to do in my books (all of them) is to take a character who may, on the surface, seem like they are not OK or they are not going to be OK, and at the end have them realize – not from something external, but from something internal – that they ARE OK. I feel like readers at this age are all struggling with that question, “Am I OK? Am I going to be OK?” And I want to speak directly to all of them and to say through my books, through my characters, “YES. You are OK. You will be OK. You’ve got this.”
What aspect of Nat’s story do you think children of this age will relate to most?
I think the idea of feeling like you want to pump the brakes as puberty starts to loom is pretty widespread. In ARE YOU THERE GOD, the kids all seemed to want to rush towards puberty, to be the first. But amongst my kids and their friends, I see something different. I think life moves so fast now that kids are in less of a hurry to get to adulthood. Maybe we aren’t selling it well. But I think the mixed feelings about physical changes are top of mind to a lot of kids. I also think that kids will love Nat’s dad. I wrote him as a kind of idealized dad, a dream dad.
Any advice to parents who read this book with their children on how to start a heartfelt discussion about some of the issues Nat deals with?
My best and only advice to parents is always to just create space where you can truly listen to what your kids are trying to tell you. So many times, we go into these conversations armed with what we think are the right things to say because we want to get it right, and we forget to really listen, to truly hear what they are saying. Make space! Don’t assume anything.
So, what do you see and what can your fans expect next on your horizon?
I have so many books in various stages of production right now! My next middle grade with Algonquin is called NAKED MOLE RAT SAVES THE WORLD and it’s about a kid who has a really unusual “superpower” and has to use it to, well, save the world (in the small picture, that is). It’s another book with a single parent, a kid who feels ‘different’ and about the way we seek and find our people and our place in a world that doesn’t always seem to understand us; it’s about expectations and figuring out how to be who you are.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Karen! Wishing the all the best in the future.
Karen Rivers grew up in British Columbia, where she takes loads of photos, goes on lots of walks, and writes books. She believes that stories are all secret passages to alternate worlds where we can be safe to explore the unsafe, the unsettling or the unfair hands some people have been dealt. She also believes in you. Find Karen on her Website and Twitter.
Want to own your very own copy of A Possibility of Whales? Enter our giveaway! (*Winner will be announced via Twitter on March 14th.)