Last week I read Julie C. Gardner’s Lily by Any Other Name. It’s a sweet love story that examines the many complex ties that test us in our teens: those between our best friends, our first loves, and our families. For Lily, those ties are all stretched to the limit at the very same time. Her world is upended when she goes through a breakup and gets startling news from her parents—these events make her question what it truly means to love someone, through their faults and flaws—and reminds us of how much we can learn about ourselves by loving someone else.
Lily features a smart, lovable heroine and a cast of fully-realized characters that illustrate how entangled our lives can be. I felt like I was right back in high school as I was reading, rooting for Lily the whole time. Watching Lily begin to understand the complexities of love was equal parts joy and heartache, and seeing her learning to stand up for herself and what she most wants in the world made me cheer. At times a little melancholy and often quite funny, Lily by Any Other Name is a delight to read. I wish I’d known a Lily when I was in high school.
Lily by Any Other Name is Julie’s first YA novel. I’ve been waiting to ask her about her transition into writing YA, so this was the perfect time to have a chat. Here’s what she had to say about her latest storytelling adventures:
1. What inspired you to write Lily by Any Other Name? Any plans for a sequel?
Lily began as a short story I wrote for a writing course I was taking years ago. At the time I was teaching high school English (and dreaming of being a writer). I fell in love with Lily and her mother Claudia, and wanted to follow the “surprise” of that story to its conclusion. Lily’s experiences (both good and the bad) were inspired by the issues I witnessed my own students navigating. I had a front row seat to all the joys and heartbreaks of senior year. As for a sequel, I have an outline for what happens after Lily graduates. If readers want to know, I’d love to write it!
2. How is writing for a YA audience different than writing for an older audience? What did you enjoy most about writing for a YA audience, and what was the biggest challenge?
Everything is different about a YA audience, except for the fact that I think all readers want to feel something when they read. The biggest challenge of YA is channeling what’s important to them. Adult worries and wishes are quite different. But everyone wants to feel valued and loved. That’s a universal.
3. If you could go back and tell High School Julie one thing, what would it be?
The easy answer is that I’d tell her not to worry about what everyone else thinks or does. Isn’t that a problem all teenagers face? But to that end, I’d tell her to trust herself more. The hardest issues I’ve faced came after ignoring my intuition.
4. What are a few of your favorite books, and what do you like most about each one?
I love The Book Thief for the lyricism of its prose and beauty of the story. The author chooses a most unusual narrator, and I was thrilled that he pulled it off. I also love A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner, not only because they are gorgeously written, but because they explore a culture with which I was completely unfamiliar. That’s part of the wonder and importance of literature, I think.
5. What’s something you’d like to see more of in YA literature?
I appreciate the move toward strong female characters in the past decade (since The Hunger Games), but I prefer contemporary YA to dystopian. I’d like to see more contemporary male characters who are sensitive and flawed, rather than heroic. We’re all just doing our best, struggling to find our places in the world, aren’t we?
6. Can you share anything about the next book you’re working on? Any teasers?
Well, I do have a sequel to Lily that expands on the “triangles” of the first book: love triangles, friend triangles, and family triangles. But even I don’t know how their stories are going to end. (That part of writing thrills me!)
Julie C. Gardner is the author of Letters for Scarlet and Guest List. A native of Southern California, Julie lives in a suburb of LA with her husband, two children, and three dogs. When Julie isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, napping, and finding new excuses not to run. Lily by Any Other Name is Julie’s first Young Adult novel.
To learn more about the author, visit her website, juliecgardner.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you sign up for her newsletter, you’ll receive a sample of her humorous marathon memoir, Running with Pencils.