Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Welcome to the FFBC: WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND by Alison McGhee Interview + Giveaway

What I Leave Behind

by Alison McGhee
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Release Date: May 15, 2018
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
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After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each.

Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.

We’re so excited to have Alison McGhee in our FFBC Tours and can’t wait to ask her questions about WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND!


Favorite Book?

This question is too hard! ☺️ I have to cheat and give you a few: My Book of Life by Angel, by Martine Leavitt. For Every One, by Jason Reynolds. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, by Warsan Shire. The Song-Poet, by Kao Kalia Yang. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. The Saga series, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. 

Favorite TV show?

It’s a toss-up between The Gilmore Girls and Friday Night Lights. 

Favorite movie?

Recent: Wonder Woman.
Past: Love Actually.

Favorite Song?

Recent: “That Year,” by Brandi Carlile.
Past: “Comes a Time,” by Neil Young.

Favorite Food?


Name 3 fictional places you would move to in a heartbeat.
The island that the Swiss Family Robinson were shipwrecked on. Isla, an island I wrote about in my novel Pablo and Birdy. And the island that Wonder Woman grew up on. (I seem to have an island thing going here!)

What were your favorite books growing up?

I loved books about children surviving on their own, like My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, and Stuart Little, by E.B. White.

 Favorite Quote?

“Walk slowly. All you can ever come to is yourself.”

What authors would you “fangirl” over?

I’m a total fangirl for poets Warsan Shire, Sharon Olds and Danez Smith. And I’m a fangirl for writers who write anything and everything, like M.T. Anderson, Jason Reynolds and Kazuo Ishiguro.

 What recent book would you recommend to our YA fans?

I just finished two that I’d highly recommend: Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah, and Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds.


Could you tell our Book Addicts a little bit about WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND?

Will, the star of What I Leave Behind, reminds me of myself at his age. Will is lonely, even though he’s loved by everyone who knows him. He absorbs the sadness and struggles of those around him. He’s trying so hard to make sense of his father’s death by suicide, and he can’t bear to think of the pain his friend Playa is in after being raped at a party. 

         He wonders: If he had been at the party, could he have prevented the rape? If he had said the right thing to his dad, if he had only known what was in his dad’s mind, would his father still be alive?

         One of the ways that Will tries to make sense of this un-sense-making world is by walking. He walks and walks and walks the streets of his downtown L.A. neighborhood until he finds a rhythm that lets his thoughts roam free. It’s like meditation for him. What Will is figuring out is that you can walk your way into a new way of living, in which your grief and confusion transform you into a person of enormous tenderness.  

What 3 hashtags would you most associate with your book? (Could be a word or phrase or anything that would instantly make you think of WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND.)


What gave you the idea to write a book with 100 chapters & 100 words per chapter?

Whenever I write a book, I create a secret structure for it. The secret structure is usually known only to me, invisible to the outside world, but it gives me a framework within which to work. With “What I Leave Behind,” I had the image of a boy who worked in a dollar store. Everything in a dollar store costs $1.00, so I decided to write a book with exactly 100 small chapters (because a dollar is100 pennies, get it?) and then I challenged myself further to make each of those passages 100 words exactly. I love giving myself weird, cool assignments. 

Tell us your favorite quote from WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND.

“Music is the refuge of the lonely.”

Is there a specific scene that you had the most fun to write? Or which part was the most difficult to get through?

I had the most fun writing about the little butterfly dude throughout, because he’s so sweet and almost otherworldly in his trust. The most difficult parts to write about were Will’s profound sadness over both his childhood friend’s rape and the loss of his dad.

If you had to pick one song to be the Theme Song for WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND– Which one would you pick?

Oh, this one’s easy! “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. It’s threaded throughout the entire book.

Are there any recommendations you could give your readers to be in the “perfect mood” to read WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND (specific music, snacks…)? 

Put on some David Bowie and make sure you repeat “Space Oddity” at least three times as you read. Have some fresh-baked cornbread with butter by your side. And after you read the book, go for a long, long walk. You might want to leave a secret gift for someone on your way.

What’s next for you? 

I’ve got a new novel for adults/older teens coming out in the fall of 2019, and I just finished writing a brand-new YA novel, set in Minneapolis and tentatively titled How to Speak Poem. 
Thanks so much for chatting with us!!

Thank YOU for all these great questions! ☺️

Alison McGhee writes novels, picture books, poems, and essays for all ages, including the forthcoming novel Never Coming Back (out in October 2017) and the #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestseller SOMEDAY, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages. She lives in Minneapolis, California and Vermont.

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1 comment:

  1. This book deals with heavy issues that will be emotional to read about. I'm looking forward to reading and finding out how this character deals with so much pain.