Rachel Bateman’s newest novel, Someone Else’s Summer, takes off at the beginning of summer, right after Anna’s older sister, Storm, dies in a car crash. While grieving the loss of the sister she used to idolize, Anna finds Storm’s bucket list: a list of 15 things Storm wanted to accomplish that summer. Along with her next door neighbor, Anna takes off on a summer road trip to honor her sister by completing her bucket list.
A story of loss, love, hope, and bravery, Someone Else’s Summer is a great summer read sure to give you all the feels – and if you keep reading past the interview, we have a copy up for grabs!
Where did you get your inspiration for Someone Else’s Summer?
Since I was nine, I’ve spent a week every summer at a lake in the Montana mountains. A few years ago, as I was driving to the lake, I was reminiscing about how I used to make these lists of all the things I wanted to do while I was there – and how the lists were almost always forgotten right away and never finished.
By the time I made it to the lake, I already had the character of Anna in my head, stubbornly determined to finish a list she didn’t even write. The rest slowly took shape from there.
How did you balance the heartbreak of Anna dealing with the loss of her sister and the fun with completing a bucket list and going on a road trip?
This was a bit of a balancing act for me, because I really wanted this to be a fun book, but at it’s heart there’s still a lot of grief. I worried at times that Anna and Cameron would come off as insensitive as they took their journey. Then I really thought about how grief works – sometimes it seem to completely consume you, like that’s all there is in your life. But other times it fades away, and before you know it, you’re having fun and enjoying life again for a moment. Grief ebbs and flows, and it can catch you off guard, both by its intensity and by its lack of intensity.
Once I had that realization, it became much easier to balance – I just did my best to write it as it naturally came to me.
What were some of the harder scenes for you to write?
The first 250 words – the little vignette before Chapter One. I wrote Someone Else’s Summer during NaNoWriMo, and it poured out of my pretty quickly and easily. All told, the first draft took me 44 hours to write, and it was the cleanest first draft I’ve ever written. But the opening was wrong from the start, and I knew it. I went through multiple rounds of clean-up on the manuscript before the first scene finally came to me, months later, after a bunch of false starts.
That first 250 words ended up being what got the book into Pitch Madness, and what snagged my fabulous agent’s attention, so I’m super glad I waited for the right spark to come to me. The first line – I remember the rain most of all. – just popped into my head one day while I was driving, and I knew I finally had something special.
One of the bucket list items that resonates most with Anna is to be brave with her life. Why do you think it’s important for teenagers and young adults to be brave?
The teen years are an interesting time in life. We are finally old enough to be making serious decisions for our lives, but at the same time it can feel like everything is already planned for us. Whether it’s pressure from parents or friends or society, it can be hard to really embrace what we want, rather than what is wanted for us.
It takes a lot of bravery to figure out who you are and what you want in life. And it takes a ton of bravery to make mistakes along the way. What’s so great about life is that we naturally have that bravery in us – just watch a little kid for a while. They are not afraid to try new things and make mistakes in order to get what they want.
A lot of pressure is put on teenagers today to do things “right.” When a young child makes a mistake, it’s just part of life, but for some reason when a teenager makes a mistake, suddenly that’s a problem. And when mistakes are problems, we tend to play it safe so we won’t make any more. I don’t know exactly when the shift happens and we start playing it safe, but I think it’s so important for us to hold on to that part that is willing to screw up occasionally. Because that’s true bravery – to figure out what you want and to go for it, even if it means falling on your face a time or two along the way.
Anna is one of the few YA protagonists I’ve read about who has had and enjoys sex. What do you think the importance of featuring sex positive protagonists, girls in particular, in YA is?
Oh man, how much time do you have? Having a healthy, positive view of sex in YA novels is SO important. Let me preface this by saying I was, by choice, a virgin until I was married at 24 years old. I am a member of a very conservative church that teaches abstinence until marriage, and that worked for me.
That said, my life is not everyone’s life, and sex is a reality for many teens. For so many years, all I was finding in YA was books where, if the teenager (especially if she’s a girl) has sex, something terrible happens. (There have, of course, always been exceptions to this, and I applaud authors who broke this trend way before I did.) I think it’s important for teens to read experiences like their own, ones that show how very real sex can be. It can be great and fun and wonderful. It can be treated healthily – but also can be used unhealthily. (Small spoiler: there is a scene at the beginning of Someone Else’s Summer where Anna tries to sleep with an ex, just to use sex to numb the pain of her sister’s death.)
Sex was something that was actually brought up by my editor early on. This book has no harsh language in it, which opens it up to more readers, and there was a concern that the sex would limit that readership again. (The rant about gatekeepers and limiting access to teens when books have sex or language is one for another day!) But I was adamant that it needed to stay, and thankfully, once I explained my reasoning, there was no push back at all. The team at Running Press has been totally supportive of my decision to give Anna a sex life.
Two things I really wanted to show in Someone Else’s Summer were: 1) (again, minor spoiler) the scene where they stop for condoms. I thought it was important to show them making the decision together and acting rationally about it, not just depending on one of them to be prepared in the heat of the moment. And 2) I wanted it to be clear that neither of them was a virgin before. There’s nothing wrong with portraying a first time and first love, but sometimes sex gets so romanticized that we aren’t showing the reality that not all loves are forever loves. (And, truthfully, not all sex is about love.) It was important for me that Anna had sex before, enjoyed it, and even though that relationship is over, she can move on to another – and that is okay! Somehow, here in the middle of 2017, we still live in a world where a guy has sex and is a stud, but a girl who does is a slut. I wanted to show that, not only is she not a slut, she’s just a normal girl who has normal relationships.
I am so hopeful for a day when we can have more open conversations about sex with our teenagers – in books, on screen, and in real life. Sex doesn’t have to be stigmatized! Even in cultures like the conservative church I am part of, sex doesn’t have to be stigmatized. We should be talking openly about it, and I hope by writing openly about it, I can be doing my little part toward shifting that attitude.
What’s up next for you?
Because of a super hard pregnancy, I pretty much took the entire last year off from writing anything new, and it about drove me crazy. I’m finally feeling normal again, and I’m so excited to be back in the swing of things. I can’t share much yet, but I can say I really love a good road trip – and if I can’t take one myself, I’ll write one! 😉
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Hmmm, what else is there to know? I eat ice cream for breakfast. Like, a lot. I have an extra bone in my right foot. I’ve always loved the ocean, but for some reason live in Montana. And I may have a small problem where I can’t seem to NOT acquire more chickens each spring. 🙂