I am absolutely THRILLED to invite Jessica Verdi on the blog today. I adore both of her books and fangirled like crazy when I met her at BookExpo America last year. Today she’s here to talk about her latest book, The Summer I Wasn’t Me.
Before we get started, here’s a bit about the book:
About the Book
Published by: Sourcebooks Fire on April 1, 2014
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Religion
Lexi has a secret…
Ever since her mom found out she was in love with a girl, seventeen-year-old Lexi’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.
You are on the road to truth. Help is on the way.
The road signs leading to New Horizons summer camp promise a new life for Lexi—she swears she can change. She can learn to like boys. But denying her feelings is harder than she thinks. And when she falls heads over heels for one of her fellow campers, Lexi will have to risk her mother’s approval for the one person who might love her no matter what.
Interview With Jessica Verdi
Ashley: How much research did you do into “de-gaying camps”? Do you think The Summer I Wasn’t Me is an accurate representation of what these camps are like, with the role playing and enforcement of gender roles?
Jessica: The bulk of my research consisted of doing a lot of technical research on so-called “reparative therapy” (the techniques and methods they use, the argument for the work, etc.), reading first hand accounts from people who have been to camps like these, and watching several documentaries. Every single “exercise” you see in the book came from research—I didn’t make any of that stuff up, including the horrifying events that happen (no spoilers!) in Chapter 29. In fact, one of the hardest parts of my research was watching YouTube videos of that very type of thing. It was extremely difficult to watch kids going through something like that, but I knew I owed it to the accuracy of the story to get every detail, even ones as awful as that, correct. So yes, I do feel confident that New Horizons is representative of these camps and programs in real life.
Ashley: AHHHH Chapter 29!! Seriously, you guys. Your eyes will be like basketballs when you read that chapter O_O It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. Horrible, but YOU.CAN’T.LOOK.AWAY.
Ashley: When you wrote The Summer I Wasn’t Me, were you expecting/hoping readers would be frustrated and enraged with the camp? When I read the book I was stuck between loving the book and wanting to scream at it because the camp was so horrible! Is this the reaction you were hoping for?
Jessica: YES! 100%. A lot of people aren’t aware that thing sort of thing actually happens—let alone happens in our country every single day. It’s such a hush-hush world, and so it’s kind of an “out of sight, out of mind” thing. I wanted to bring these programs to light, and let people in on a little-seen world. And if readers are frustrated, enraged, and angry at what they’re reading, then I feel like my job is done. 🙂
Ashley: Well you certainly succeeded!
Ashley: If Lexi’s dad were still alive, how would he have reacted to his wife sending Lexi to “de-gaying” camp?
Jessica: He definitely would object to the whole idea. It’s interesting because if he were alive, I don’t know that the conversation about sending Lexi to New Horizons would have even happened. Lexi’s decision to go to the camp is sort of a direct result of her dad’s death—her family has been torn apart in so many ways, and she’s hoping becoming straight will help her hold onto the last family she has left.
Ashley: What inspired you to write The Summer I Wasn’t Me? Was there something specific?
Jessica: When I was toying with ideas for the topic of my second novel, this story really called out to me. I’ve always been fascinated by these so-called conversion camps, places where religious leaders claim they can turn gay kids straight. There is no doubt in my mind that they’re claiming to do the impossible, and that telling LGBTQ kids there’s something wrong with them is nothing short of abuse, but the root behind these camps actually, in a twisted way, stems from a good place. The parents who send their kids to these programs truly believe their children are on the wrong path in life and that they will go to hell if they don’t make a change. These parents are desperate to “save” their kids, in their own misguided way. This is something that has long intrigued me, and a world I knew I wanted to explore in the book.
But it all came together for me when, funnily enough, I was listening to Lady Gaga’s song “Hair.” The chorus of that song goes, “I just want to be myself and I want you to love me for who I am.” And I started thinking about all the kids who aren’t loved for who they are, and that made me so sad. And I knew I had to tell Lexi’s story.
Ashley: I’m VERY excited about your next book, What You Left Behind! What can you tell us about it? This will be your first book in the point of view of a male. How was that process for you?
Jessica: I’m so excited about What You Left Behind too. 🙂 It’s about a boy named Ryden who is wrestling with the guilt that if he hadn’t gotten his girlfriend pregnant, she wouldn’t have postponed her chemo treatments—and would still be alive. But as he struggles to be a good father and grieve his girlfriend’s death, he uncovers secrets that will make him reconsider every relationship in his life. I LOVED writing from the POV of a boy. He’s going through SO much in this story and I really loved getting inside his head. He’s smart and cool and talented, but he’s also a complete and total mess. It was so fun to explore his world—I kind of fell in love with him a little bit by the end of the story. 😉
Ashley: Don’t worry, Jessica, we won’t tell your husband about your new love affair. 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by Nose Graze! Keep rocking the world with your amazing stories.
About Jessica Verdi
Jessica Verdi is a young adult author who writes envelope-pushing stories about not-so-pretty real-life issues, but always with a positive spin.
Though she’s always been a bookworm (her childhood was basically defined by the philosophy that working your way through giant stacks of library books is far superior to playing outside), she remained convinced throughout high school and college that the stage—rather than the page—was meant to be her creative outlet. After nearly ten years pounding the NYC pavement auditioning for musicals (and sometimes actually getting cast in them), she got an idea for a novel. That novel was an adult magical realism story, and while it will never see the light of day—nope, don’t ask—it was the book that started her love affair with writing. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.
Jess received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School and works as an editor at a romance novel publisher. She loves all animals, from the cute and cuddly to the large and freakish, has been a vegetarian for most of her life, is a little too obsessed with TV shows about vampires, and has an amazing group of writer friends who keep her sane.
Jess lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and dog.
Enter to win a copy of one of Jessica Verdi’s books! The book will be distributed through either Amazon or The Book Depository, so you can pick your format (Kindle or physical copy). In order to enter, you must live in a country that Amazon or The Book Depository can deliver to.