Laurie Devore’s description of her YA debut How to Break a Boy is “no boys were harmed in the making of this book.” If I hadn’t already been lucky enough to read this book, I would’ve picked it up in an instant after reading her review and the synopsis.
Olivia has made a name for herself in her small southern town for tearing people down. After a family tragedy and catching the one person who might be even meaner than she is – her best friend, Adrienne – in bed with her boyfriend, Olivia decides she’s had enough. The temptation to bring Adrienne down one last time is too much to resist and so she enlists the help of good boy Whit DuRant to be her fake boyfriend. But Whit gets caught up in the tensions between Olivia and Adrienne and Olivia risks losing more than just a tutor.
The saying goes, “All’s fair in love and war.” But for Olivia, some things mean too much to risk losing.
Congratulations on getting How to Break a Boy published! What has that process been like for you?
Thank you so much! And thanks for having me!
I always say that my publishing journey is much more a tale of persistence than a rollercoaster ride. I went through one book that wasn’t working at all and several questionable versions of How to Break a Boy (which was called Pretty Sins at the time) before I signed with my agent, Diana Fox. The really amazing thing throughout this was that Diana was willing to read several of the questionable drafts and very fortunately, liked enough of what was in them to give me notes and encourage me even before she signed me as a client. After all those revisions and a few months on sub, I then ending up selling to a brand new Macmillan imprint before it even had a name (it’s now known as Imprint). I knew I wanted to take a chance on this imprint after I talked to my editor, Erin Stein. Our visions for the book and all these challenging female characters really aligned and her edits and character ideas were (and continue to be) spot on. I knew that she would be a great fit for my book and the ever-growing Imprint team has been a dream to work with.
What were some of your favorite scenes to write?
In this book in particular, the thrust of the plot involves a toxic friendship between my main character, Olivia, and the school’s queen bee, Adrienne. One thing I wanted to convey is that even though both of these girls had been pretty terrible people, they had a very real bond and did have moments where they felt genuine love and friendship. There’s a few different scenes that tell the story of why these girls – who are both frankly pretty lost – needed each other. Olivia and Adrienne both tend to act out in destructive ways but I really loved writing the quieter moments of their past relationship and I love the juxtaposition of those scenes with the more dramatic scenes of how they ultimately turn on each other and the terrible things they do.
One of your tweets about How to Break a Boy says, “Revenge! Kissing! Mean girls! Questionable decisions!” Why did you decide to write a novel that includes all of these things?
Hmm, that’s a good question! I don’t think I ever really consciously set out to write about those things. I was talking to someone the other day about how a lot of my writing ideas come from consuming other fiction, whether it be books or TV or movies and wanting to fill in the blanks of those stories. At the time I started playing with the idea of How to Break a Boy, I had become preoccupied with mean girls in fiction. I was seeing a lot of these girls in stories who were generally there to be dumped by the main character’s love interest, likely after being called a slut, a ditz, a bitch, etc. But I had trouble with the idea that these girls could be boiled down to demeaning stereotypes. Girls – even mean girls, even irredeemable girls – are complex human beings with lives and backstories of their own, which is where the characters of Olivia and Adrienne started to develop. The rest sort of grew organically from there. I’ve long had a fascination with the idea of love versus revenge (it’s kind a of a running theme in the books I’ve worked on to this point) and I don’t think there’s very many teenage girls who don’t make questionable decisions at some point or the other. I didn’t want to shy away from that.
What was your favorite thing about writing How to Break a Boy?
To those who know me best, it is well known that I am generally uninterested in the “likability” of characters. The idea of unlikeable female protagonists in fiction has really gained a lot of steam in the last couple of years (yay!) so I wanted to steer directly into that and to not hold back in exploring those characters. I think there is often a desire by adults to minimize how terrible girls can be to each other but to me, I really wanted to unpack their motives while also driving the reader’s need to keep turning the page. Ultimately, my favorite part of writing the book was diving into the psyches of these girls. Learning to love a character like Olivia – a character that some people can’t stand – was such a great process for me.
If you had to describe the novel in three words, what would they be?
Soapy, angry, and ultimately, redemptive. (That might be cheating)
What YA books would you recommend to readers who enjoy How to Break a Boy?
I think Courtney Summers – particularly her first two books Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are – are probably the closest in spirit (but read all her stuff!). You would also likely enjoy any of Kody Keplinger’s books that fabulously delve into the complexities of family, friendships, and yes, romantic love too! Or! If you’re looking for some other 2017 debuts that deal with complex female characters, don’t miss Kate Hart’s After the Fall and Tiffany Jackson’s Allegedly.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Honestly, I am just super excited for everyone to read the book. I know Olivia is a particularly polarizing character, and I’m always fascinated by how readers react to her, whether good or bad. Either way, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read!