On the heels of her successful young adult novels, Coe Booth recently released Just Like a Brother, a middle grade novel about two foster brothers, Jerrod and Kevon.
Jarrett doesn’t trust Kevon.
But he’s got to share a room with him anyway.
Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends — but that’s not gonna happen. Not when Kevon’s acting like he’s better than Jarrett — and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon’s keeping some major secrets.
Jarrett doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He’s gotta do something about it — but what?
KINDA LIKE BROTHERS is the story of two boys who really don’t get along — but have to find a way to figure it out.
I was recently able to connect with Coe to find out a little more about her and her new book!
What book(s) are you currently in the middle of reading?
I’m always reading a bunch of books at the same time. Right now, I’m reading Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Outside In by Sarah Ellis, I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin, and Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher.
How do you hope your writing engages young people?
More than anything, I hope kids see themselves in the pages of my books. I don’t want them to think of books as only being about other people. It’s about them, too. When I was growing up, I rarely saw books about people like myself, especially contemporary books, which is what I wanted to read. So I hope my books can be mirrors for kids.
You just got back from a cruise! I think the last time we chatted on Twitter, you were in Paris. Do you have a favorite destination?
I love traveling, and I do it every chance I can. I’ve been on a bunch of cruises because it’s my family’s tradition to go on one every other year — sort of like a mini family reunion. As for Paris, I try to spend a few months there every year because… well, because it’s Paris! And because it’s a city that just inspires me. However, my favorite place in the world (so far!) is the Amalfi Coast in Italy. It’s the most gorgeous place I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautiful it doesn’t look real! There are so many places I’d like to visit; I have a bucket list that’s out of control!
Your fiction would be labeled ‘realistic fiction’. Has it ever gotten too real, too painful for you while writing?
I don’t really think anything can be too real. I’m always pushing myself to go to those places that are painful for me to write because I know there are kids experiencing the things I’m writing about in their real lives. There’s never a reason to hold back. Even though it’s hard to write some of those scenes, I think it’s important to try.
You’re building quite a body of work! Do you think you have an overarching theme or message in the books you’ve published to date?
I don’t think I have a theme, and I hope I don’t have a message! I do think most of my books center around kids who are trying to do the right thing despite the difficult surroundings they’re living in. Their neighborhoods are often tough, and their home lives are complicated, too. They’re basically good kids — not perfect! — just trying to hold it together and make it through.
I think many of us have the perception that writers sit in a spot all day with cold cups of coffee and write, write, write. It seems though, that being a successful writer involves a lot of mixing and mingling both with follow writers as well as with the general public. Can you talk a little about that? How many of these opportunities are created by writers and how many by their publishers? I think I’m asking ‘just how much work is involved in becoming a successful writer?’
Being a writer in New York City is probably a lot different than being a writer in other places. There are so many writers here! So, yes, there are lots of opportunities here to meet up with other writers and spend the day writing in a coffee shop. We do this a lot. We also see each other at book parties and readings, where we get to hang out with readers. And the YA authors in NYC meet up socially every month or so. It’s all very informal, organized by the writers themselves, not the publishers. Writing can be a very lonely career, so it’s nice meeting writer friends for lunch and writing whenever we get the chance. Having said that, there are definitely times when I need to pull away from the “book scene” for a few months. There’s always so much going on here in NYC, it’s easy to get caught up in everything and not spend enough time actually writing!
What led you to Jarrett’s story?
Years ago, before I was writing full-time, I worked as a child protective caseworker in the Bronx. I investigated child abuse and tried to help keep families together after they had gone through traumatic situations. When I had to remove kids from their homes temporarily, I would place them in foster homes where, quite often, the foster parent already had biological children. I was always curious what it was like for those kids. How did they handle these foster kids coming and going? Was it hard for them to avoid attaching to these kids, knowing they were only going to be there for a certain length of time and then they’d be leaving forever?
These are the kinds of questions that sparked the idea for Kinda Like Brothers. My story is told from the point of view of the foster mother’s biological son, Jarrett, a kid who is very used to the fact that babies come and go from his life all the time. But when Kevon, a boy who is around his own age shows up, everything is turned upside down. It’s not so easy for Jarrett to remain detached, especially after he starts learning the difficult circumstances of Kevon’s life.
Kinda Like Brothers is middle grade. How was it different to write for that age group?
Before I began writing it, I thought I would need a different approach or I would have to change the way I write to make this middle grade. But really, I didn’t change very much at all. Obviously, an eleven-year-old boy has different interests and concerns than a sixteen year old, but I didn’t feel the need to change my writing style. And I really didn’t want to water down the story just because the readers would be younger. I wanted my characters (and the story) to be complex, just like the lives of a lot of kids growing up in the inner city.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity means accurately reflecting the world — the entire world.
Thanks so much for the interview! I wish you much success and happy travels!