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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

N.C. author getting rave reviews for new novel for kids; book launch Friday

Posted January 30

Author Ali Standish

Ali Standish was a fish out of water, as she says, when she and her husband moved to Cambridge, United Kingdom, three years ago.

She found comfort, she tells me, while writing her new chapter book for middle grade readers that's based in a small Southern town. "The Ethan I Was Before," which was released this month, will be celebrated at 7 p.m., Friday, at a book launch at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.

The novel is getting rave reviews. "Readers will be riveted as Ethan, his family, and other well-developed characters face the somber realities of life head on," wrote Publishers Weekly, which gave it a starred review.

Standish is back in North Carolina. She moved to Raleigh just before the holidays. The former teacher, who earned a master's degree in children's literature at the University of Cambridge, chatted with me by email about her book, her work, middle grade readers and what's next.

Here's our email conversation:

Go Ask Mom: How did you come up with the idea for your book? Was it an idea that was floating around for a bit or did it just all of a sudden come to you?

Ali Standish: I think it was several ideas floating around together at the right time. They converged and BANG! Light bulb. It started when I began to think about why kids lie. Everyone has a few friends growing up that lie about everything, and I thought it might be interesting to tell a story about a child like that—who blurs the line between stories and lies. I wondered…what might her reasoning be?

At the same time, I was responding to a frustration I had felt at not seeing a lot of quality middle grade titles that dealt with grief in an authentic way that was still uplifting and engaging enough to be accessible to a wide audience of readers. So I decided to tell a story about a child who is shouldering an enormous burden of grief. And those two lines of thinking really provided the impetus for my two main characters.

GAM: What did you love about writing this story?

AS: So much! I wrote it in the UK, as I said, and I think the Southern, small-town setting really helped me to feel at home when I was very much a fish out of water. I was very anxious about whether or not I could balance the mystery/adventure elements with the emotional depth needed to render the grieving process on the page, and once I began to think I was pulling it off, that was very exciting! But most importantly, I just loved getting to know these characters. They consumed my heart rather completely.

GAM: You write for middle grade audiences. Who are they and what do you enjoy about writing for this age group?

AS: I love this question! Middle grade audiences are, technically, 8- to 12-year-olds, though I think that anyone who loves middle grade books counts! I believe it’s during this phase that many children truly fall in love with reading. When most people look back to identify childhood favorites, they remember books from this period of their lives. For people in my generation, think "Where the Red Fern Grows," "My Side of the Mountain," "Bridge to Terabithia," "Walk Two Moons," "Julie of the Wolves," and even Roald Dahl’s books.

Kids at this age are curious about everything — and especially big ticket items like love and death and the meaning of life, which most of them are just beginning to think about — but not yet as cynical as many young adult readers can be. That makes writing for them a really fun prospect, because you know they are willing to come along for the ride with you (as long as you don’t insult their intelligence).

GAM: Tell us about how the book has been received. You've gotten some great press!

AS: Reviewers and readers have thus far been incredibly kind and supportive of Ethan, for which I am very grateful! The American Booksellers Association has been particularly good to my book. I’ve found that it is easy during the pre-publication stage to get caught up in what adult readers are saying, and to forget who you really wrote the book for. I am beyond excited to start hearing from child readers. Their feedback is the most important to me!

GAM: What's next for you?

AS: I am working on two other middle grade novels at the moment. They both take place in the south and deal with similarly serious themes as Ethan, but one is historical and the other a bit fantastical. Perhaps in a few years, I’ll take a stab at YA, but for now, I am loving experimenting with my middle grade voice!

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