Things You Can't Say - Jenn Bishop (Author Interview and Reviews)

Perfect for fans of See You in the Cosmos and The Science of Breakable Things, author Jenn Bishop tells the moving story of a boy determined to uncover the truth.

Nothing is going right this summer for Drew. And after losing his dad unexpectedly three years ago, Drew knows a lot about things not going right. First, it’s the new girl Audrey taking over everything at the library, Drew’s sacred space. Then it’s his best friend, Filipe, pulling away from him. But most upsetting has to be the mysterious man who is suddenly staying with Drew’s family. An old friend of Mom’s? Drew isn’t buying that.

With an unlikely ally in Audrey, he’s determined to get to the bottom of who this man really is. The thing is, there are some fears—like what if the person you thought was your dad actually wasn’t—that you can’t speak out loud, not to anyone. At least that’s what Drew thinks.

But then again, first impressions can be deceiving.

Advance Praise for Things You Can't Say:

“In a story about the aftermath of parental suicide, former children’s librarian Bishop tells a touching and believable story about the ways worries feed on each other, the difference that honesty makes to kids, and how much emotional growth a child Drew’s age can experience in just a few weeks.” – Publishers Weekly

“Bishop imbues Drew, his loving mother, and Audrey with just enough insight to make their efforts to support each other fully believable. Drew’s emerging anger with his father is both poignant and tragically appropriate. Drew’s present-tense narration is candid and vulnerable, offering readers both mirrors for and windows to this particular, very difficult experience . . . A thoughtful examination of the slow, uneven recovery that follows a devastating loss.” – Kirkus

“With a deft, sympathetic hand, Bishop relates Drew’s struggles to define his own identity while coming to terms with the man his father was.” – Recommended, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“While many kids won’t feel quite as isolated or as stuck as Drew, whose father tragically committed suicide three years ago, the inability to talk about deep emotional grief is a topic that will resonate and is deftly handled here.” – Recommended, School Library Connection

“As Things You Can’t Say shows the gaping fissures that loss and grief can cause in a kiddo’s life, so too does it show how those same fissures may begin to heal and close. That we are rooting so hard for their closing in Andrew’s life is a measure of how wonderfully real and honest this story is, and of how deep our need is for just the right words.” —Gary D. Schmidt, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award Finalist

“With grit and authenticity, Bishop takes us inside the head and heart of a young boy. Be prepared to laugh, cry, cheer, and turn the last page with a satisfying sigh.” —Barbara O’Connor, author of Wonderland

“This touching, authentic novel will open readers’ eyes and hearts about mental health issues in loving, ‘normal’ families. Jenn Bishop explores a challenging subject with sensitivity and grace.” —Barbara Dee, author of Maybe He Just Likes You

“People who go away forever. People who come out of nowhere. People who drift away and then drift back. Three years after the death of his father, young Drew finds a way to make peace with all these sorts of people. An emotional tale of a boy who finds it takes equal measures of courage to move forward and to look back.” —Paul Mosier, author of Echo’s Sister

 *Goodreads reviews by myself and fellow friends in the #mglit and #kidlit community.

Q: How did you get started in the author profession? 
A: After college, I settled into my first career as a teen librarian. I loved books and was deeply committed to the role public libraries play in communities, but secretly I wanted to write my own books. After a few years of doing NaNoWriMo and trying to write on the side, I enrolled in Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. VCFA forced me to take my craft seriously, to treat it like a job, and the amount of focus and attention I poured into the second project I worked on there paid off – I signed with a literary agent who sold my first ever middle grade novel, The Distance to Home (Knopf/Penguin Random House 2016). It was the third project I queried.
Q: What has been the hardest obstacle in your writing career thus far?   
A: Probably distraction! There’s so much competing for our attention these days and it can be hard to shut off the world and just write. Lately, I’ve found that the only way I can get work done is turning off the internet on my laptop and hiding my cell phone.
Q: What was your inspiration behind writing Things You Can’t Say?   
A:  With Things You Can’t Say, I kept coming back to the kids I knew from my library jobs – especially the ones who were in the library day after day. The library was a real refuge for them, and I think Drew subconsciously came from that experience. I say subconsciously because I find it’s only when I’m finished a project that I can see what inspired it. On the surface, Things You Can’t Say was inspired by me worrying about running out of ideas and sitting on my front porch when a motorcycle puttered up the hill. As I like to tell students, ideas are everywhere!
Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students? Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc?
A: While I have a notebook or two for each project, it’s more for jotting down ideas. My penmanship is too horrifying/illegible to imagine drafting by hand. I tend to write about 30 pages of a new project and share it with my critique group before venturing further. Usually that helps create some distance from it in my mind and the process of sharing it early on helps me finesse where it might be going—as well as introduce new directions I might not have seen. Once I have a full draft, I set it aside for at least a month so that my first reading of the full thing can happen with fresh eyes. Typically, I’ll make a few revision passes on my own, noting areas for improvement with regard to plot, character, pacing, story logic, setting, etc., before sharing with critique partners and eventually my agent once I feel it's ready “enough.” Every project takes the amount of time and number of drafts it takes, I’ve discovered, so I try to be patient with the process. Some books come together more quickly, others might take twice or three times as long.
Q: How do you handle (if you have had) any backlash in regards to writing about tough topics?  
A: If working as a public librarian has taught me anything, it’s that everyone is fighting their own battle, and so I try to keep this in mind in the face of any criticism. At the end of the day, my life experience has shown me that for any tough situation, there are kids living it. They deserve to see their stories in books. Might the audience of the books not be as wide as more commercial stories? Maybe. But that won’t stop me from writing to those experiences. In putting Things You Can’t Say out into the world, I have occasionally seen the grimace on adult’s faces when I say the word “suicide.” But the reality is, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC, and at present there are very few middle grade books that speak to this subject.
Q: What advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing? 
A: As a middle schooler, I was a perfectionist. And truthfully, I didn’t leave that behind when I became an adult. Starting with a blank page can be hard if you expect your first effort to be perfect. It can be paralyzing. But I’ve found that by embracing first drafts in all their messy glory and accepting that they will be full of mistakes, writing them became a lot more fun. You can’t make something better if it doesn’t first exist. And you don’t know what gems may lie in your so-called mistakes. Messy first drafts forever!
Q: Future middle grade projects that you are currently working on? 
A: As I’m writing this, I am just finishing a final pass of my spring 2021 middle grade novel, Where We Used to Roam. It begins with twelve-year-old budding artist Emma O’Malley on a plane to Wyoming, certain she’s ruined everything with her longtime BFF, and desperately worried for her big brother who’s headed off to rehab for an opioid addiction. It’s a story about friendship and family, and how to move forward after even the biggest mistakes.
Q: What were your favorite books as a kid, and what do you recommend to middle grade classrooms?   
A: I was a high volume reader as a kid. I lived for the Baby-Sitters Club books and the Goosebumps series, but I also loved picking titles from that special shelf of Newbery winners. Some of my recent favorites include Hena Khan’s More to the Story and Chirp by Kate Messner. There’s so much wonderful middle grade coming out lately that I miiiight have a cart in my home office of library checkouts. What can I say: once a librarian, always a librarian!

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