We’re very excited today to introduce you to Jen Petro-Roy’s newest middle-grade novel, LIFE IN THE BALANCE, which released this week and has already garnered a star from School Library Journal along with other great reviews.
(Jen has generously offered to send a signed copy of LIFE IN THE BALANCE to one lucky winner–US only. See details at bottom.)
Jen is known for writing “honest books with heart,” about kids who are strong, determined, unsure, struggling to fit in, bubbly, shy, and everything in between. Her other books include P.S. I MISS YOU, GOOD ENOUGH, and YOU ARE ENOUGH, all from Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.
When she isn’t writing, Jen can be found reading, playing board games, belting out songs in the car to embarrass her two daughters, and working as an eating disorder awareness advocate.
Learn more about her at her website: http://www.jenpetroroy.com
On Twitter: @jpetroroy
And on Instagram: @jpetroroy
About the Book
Welcome to The Mixed-Up Files, Jen! Please tell us a bit about the novel.
LIFE IN THE BALANCE tells the story of Veronica Conway, who has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. She’s practically been playing the game since she was a baby and her mom has always been her coach. OBVIOUSLY she’ll make the team. OBVIOUSLY it will be awesome.
Except right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team. Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much. Soon, Veronica has to learn balance right alongside her mom as she tries to discover what she really wants to do with her life.
What inspired you to write the novel? Did you play softball yourself?
I didn’t play softball myself, but I was a competitive swimmer when I was in middle school and high school. Competitive in the “I swam all summer, for the school team, and for a club team” but not necessarily in the “I was the best one on the team” way. I was one of those kids who really enjoyed sports, but no matter how hard I practiced, I was never amazing, which could get discouraging at times.
As a parent, it’s been interesting—and kind of depressing—to notice how serious and focused kids are expected to be about sports and activities these days. There’s a lot of pressure to specialize and thrive so early, which takes so much of the play and fun out of things. I wanted to explore that push and pull in this story—what does it mean when you love a sport but may not necessarily want to make it your whole life? Is that okay? Is that allowed?
Kids Dealing With Real-World Problems
There are very few middle-grade books about alcoholism and addiction. What made you want to write about the subject?
I think that people tend to underestimate the topics that middle grade kids can handle reading about. They are not delicate flowers that need to be sheltered from the world. Kids live in the real world—they have issues of their own, deal with mental health struggles and have parents who are having their own problems.
I was inspired to write this novel by my best friend, who’s a recovering alcoholic herself, with two young children. She’s been sober for years now, but it got me thinking about what it would be like to have a parent struggling with the same issue. Anyone dealing with an addiction and facing it head-on is so strong, but sometimes it’s overlooked how strong their family members can be, too.
As a former librarian, you must be very aware of what kids like. Are there certain types of books they’re looking for during these difficult times?
I think it varies for the kid! I know that even amongst my friends, we all turn to different things for comfort when we’re stressed out. Sometimes people may want to reread old favorites—I know that when I’m stressed out, I love to reread Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series. Sometimes, it can be nice to escape into a fantasy world where the problems are completely different than anything a reader could experience in “real life”
But sometimes, too, kids may want to read about people dealing with issues just like theirs. It can be comforting to see that you’re not the only one struggling with anxiety or friend or parent problems. It can make you feel like you’re not so alone after all.
Oh, man. I don’t feel that way, especially this past year. It’s been a struggle to balance homeschooling my kids, dealing with my own pandemic anxiety, and trying to write. But even before that, while trying to balance writing and being a parent, I think it’s so important to set aside time for my writing. (It sounds simple, but it’s way harder to actually do). For me, writing is important. It was my dream and what I love to do, and I try to make sure that I can have at least twenty minutes when I need or plan for it. Sometimes being strapped for time actually makes me more efficient.
I think it’s also important to be easy on yourself. I don’t write every day, and I don’t beat myself up for not writing every day. Sometimes we need those days off—weeks off, even—to let the ideas simmer and the story come to us.
You’ve mentioned that your first published novel P.S. I MISS YOU was actually the fifth novel you wrote. What did you learn from writing those other four novels that contributed to your current success?
Keep going and keep writing. I firmly believe that as much as talent is a part of this business, getting a book published comes more down to luck and perseverance. There are so many talented writers out there who may have gotten dissuaded by rejections and stopped writing. I got so many rejections along the way, both from agents and editors, but I think the key to finally getting a book published was to keep writing. With every book, you get better at your craft and improve in a different way. Every published writer out there is still improving and stretching themselves today.
Keep going and you’ll have a chance to get there. If you stop, that’s all there is.
What do you hope readers will take away from LIFE IN THE BALANCE?
My hope is that readers realize that it’s okay to follow their hearts. That no matter what they think people “expect” of them, they still need to follow their own hearts and their own passions. That speaking up and being honest is important. And that being yourself is the best thing of all.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently editing another middle-grade contemporary about Maddie, a competitive rock climber whose workaholic, always-traveling mother returns home to be a surrogate for Maddie’s aunt. It deals with friendship drama, the complications of the mother-daughter relationship, and finding out what “being brave” actually means.
Thank you so much for having me!
Thank YOU, Jen!
Please click the giveaway link below BEFORE SATURDAY MIDNIGHT and like, retweet, and/or follow MUF for a chance to win a signed copy of LIFE IN THE BALANCE. The winner will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 21.