If intense and toxic lady relationships are your thing – and even if they’re not – Marcy Beller Paul’s YA debut Underneath Everything should be on your radar. The novel hits shelves October 27 but it’s been stirring up buzz in the community for months.
The novel follows high school senior Mattie, who has spent the last few years of high school off the social radar. But after all the missed opportunities, Mattie’s tired of hiding and ready to take back everything she lost even if that means confronting the reason she dropped off the social scene to begin with: Jolene. Beautiful Jolene who has everything Mattie believes should be hers – even the stories of their once upon a time friendship.
“It’s funny, the first draft of the story was a more traditional love triangle between two boys and a girl. Then, during revision, I got to a scene between the main character and a female friend of hers. That scene immediately stood out to me as more intense and interesting than anything else. I don’t think it exists in the final book, but it’s the thing that made everything click.”
This ‘aha!’ moment ultimately led Paul to reconsider the path of her novel but it came with a little hesitation as well.
“Since I had my own toxic friendship in middle school and high school, I immediately worried that the story would be too weird, too personal, not universal,” said Paul. But she was curious enough to try the idea out on a friend who revealed that she too had a similar experience in high school.
“That’s when I knew: we all have our Jolene.”
This realization caused Paul to completely rewrite the second half of her novel and heavily revise first half in order to focus on and develop on the friendship that would make Underneath Everything the novel that it is.
Developing and fleshing out relationships in novels, particularly those in YA, is part of the challenge that authors face. YA readers notice inauthenticity and one of the biggest disservices an author can do is offer up a fake relationship to readers, especially teen readers.
“I wanted to write about the parts that are hard to talk about, because sometimes the things that are hard to talk about aren’t talked about at all. Then we’re left holding on to those unsettling things, and feeling ashamed and alone.”
Underneath Everything comes at a time when the YA community is demanding books that examine and parallel the reality of real teenagers. That means dealing with issues that range from mental health to healthy relationships, as well as reflecting the diverse world we live in.
Like many authors, Beller Paul remembers what it’s like to be a teenager and how those years are formative and often times defining for adult life.
“One of the reasons I love to read and write YA is because at that time in your life, when you’re a teenager, you are still experiencing so many things for the first time. Your opinions are pliable. Your code isn’t quite formed yet. You are still finding your place. And the experiences you have as a teenager—the ones you choose and the ones that happen to you—will end up shaping you. I can point to specific days/relationships/moments from my teen years that still affect me to this day.”
Beller Paul knows just how influential these years are to forming and informing who teenagers grow up to be and, as an adult who’s been there, she knows that the best thing she can do is be there.
“I guess my hope as a YA author is to be a part of that shaping process. It’s an honor, honestly.”