By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Dahlia Adler to the WNDB blog to discuss her YA novel Cool for the Summer, out May 11, 2021!
Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.
Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.
Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?
Dahlia, you’ve been publishing for years, with a number of YA books, anthologies, and a New Adult series. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from it?
Probably that there’s no point at which you’re guaranteed to feel like “Okay, I’ve made it, I can just keep doing this exact thing forever.” I wrote New Adult when I absolutely could not touch YA anymore for a while, and there will definitely come a time I am fully drained of my ability to do anthologies, and so on and so forth. Everything you’re doing has a tipping point, either internal or external, and either you’re gonna need to pivot or take a break and there’s nothing wrong with either one.
You also run LGBTQ Reads. Why did you decide to start the site and what has surprised you most about its growth through the years? Has it been fulfilling to watch as more books with varied, diverse LGBTQ+ characters are published?
I decided to start it because at the time I was really loving where queer lit was going in categories besides YA (also YA, but YA Pride—which was then Gay YA—had that largely covered), and I really wanted a space to feature Middle Grade and New Adult, and I figured “Why not just put everything all together?” The thing about queer lit is I think there’s above-average cross-category reading, because there was so little when we were actually kids and teens that you want to see what the looks like, or you might need to look in another category to find the rep that’s closest to you (especially back in 2016, when I started it). Of course, YA is my first love and my biggest area of expertise, so that still ended up kind of dominating the site anyway, but you can find plenty of everything!
As for the most surprising, it’s probably what a huge bump it gets when people just find out about it. Like, all that needs to happen is it gets tagged in the right Twitter thread or Instagram post of people who are desperate for queer lit and it’s like a revelation. But that only works if people spread the word, so those bumps are few and far between, but always exciting.
It’s definitely tremendously fulfilling to see the growth, especially when I get an Ask on Tumblr that’s, like, “I’m so sorry to be so specific, but do you have any books with a gay trans MC?” and my heart simultaneously breaks that they think that was too specific an Ask and soars because now in 2021 I can finally say, “Here are a bunch!” and they’ll actually be good books by trans authors.
The title Cool for the Summer, of course, makes me think of the Demi Lovato song. Are you a Demi fan? Who are some of the music artists you listen to, or favorite genres?
I am definitely a Demi fan! My favorite music is grunge—if it came out of Seattle in the 90s, I probably love it—so she wasn’t someone I really sought out. But when I happened to see her on SNL I was just so wildly blown away by her and Cool for the Summer and Confident just became total obsessions of mine. But yeah, I generally veer more toward grunge, punk, and hard rock, and Nirvana will probably be my favorite band ’til the day I die, as anyone who’s read my short story in All Out can probably guess.
Your protagonist, Lara, is an aspiring romance writer. Why did you want to be a big part of who she is? From a craft perspective, was it a challenge to write a character who also wants to be a writer?
The thing about Lara is that she tries things that don’t stick, but she loves to try, and she’s always interested in what everyone else is doing even if she doesn’t want to do it herself. I think that love of having experiences is just the perfect trait for a writer, and she’s definitely someone who takes comfort in other people’s happy endings. As for whether it was a craft challenge, the truth is it wasn’t really—I just gave her a very, very similar experience to the one that I had writing Under the Lights.
If you could design your dream panel for this book, what would it be about? What other authors would you love to have on it with you?
I’ve been on a few queer YA/Romance panels for this book already and they’re always great and full of dream lineups that show a really varied picture of what those things can be. But I have to say, I think it’d be really nice to do a panel that’s specifically about contemporary bi girl rep, especially in a year where so many YAs happen to be addressing biphobia in different ways. (See: Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar, and Perfect On Paper by Sophie Gonzales.) Any of those authors would make great co-panelists, as would Tess Sharpe (The Girls I’ve Been), Becky Albertalli (Leah on the Offbeat), Ashley Herring Blake (How to Make a Wish), Brianna Shrum (Kissing Ezra Holtz), and Jennifer Dugan (Some Girls Do).
Do you have any favorite romance book tropes and any you absolutely avoid?
I love enemies to lovers, whether they’re truly enemies or more like rivals—doesn’t matter. That’s just the best. I love those romances they never see coming. Which is also probably why I don’t love best friends-to-lovers; it’s almost impossible to write that in a way that I really believe. (Unless it’s queer. Shout out to Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan and Dating Sarah Cooper by Siera Maley.)
There’s no trope I unequivocally won’t try, though, at least in YA where “amnesia” and “secret baby” aren’t big.
Unlike many summer romance books, Cool for the Summer takes place then and now, showing us summer and present-day so we can spend time with both the development of Jasmine and Chase. Why did you choose to write this in two timelines, and was it difficult to keep the timelines organized during the writing process?
The way that Lara figures herself out requires a lot of intertwining who she is now with who she was becoming over the summer; there’s nothing linear about it. When someone seems untouchable, it’s easy to imagine them as The Dream forever, so while Lara was with Jasmine, that Idea of Chase was always overhead. Then when she got him, it was like a fog lifting over past events, allowing her to see them clearly. I wanted the reader to be able to view it the same way Lara is, like going over an old text you’ve already read that suddenly has annotations.
It definitely sounds more challenging than it was, because I was a big summer camp girl and when I went to camp, it was like having an entirely different life—different best friends, different love interests, different interests, different surroundings… there’s no confusing the two.
Cool for the Summer is centered around a love triangle with a bi+ main character. Why did this feel like the right choice for Lara’s journey and what do you hope readers take from it, besides enjoying the romances?
This was always going to be a bi romance; that’s how the story was conceived. I wanted to write the story of a girl grappling with two different love interests without it being clear which was the right path, but rather the options representing changes in her personal character arc. Lara’s getting more confident, shaking off compulsory heterosexuality, and coming into her own, but it’s still a process for her. I hope readers see that it’s okay to let your dreams change, no matter how fervent they once were, and that it doesn’t mean giving up on something; it means that what we want isn’t something static, and neither is who we are. And also that it’s okay if you didn’t always “know,” and it’s okay if you’re a little later to the party than everyone else, and it’s okay if you’re not sure which party you even belong at.
This is what Leah Johnson called “the OTP question” when I asked her: Do you have any favorite pairings in media whose relationship really stayed with you, and why? (They don’t have to be canon and you can choose a non-romantic relationship if you’d like.)
For some reason, my mind immediately went to Sean and Ellie from Degrassi (even though I was totally rooting for Craig and Ellie a couple of seasons later), and I also love Taylor and Jonah from Jellicoe Road, because there’s just something about having someone who falls for you specifically after knowing your weakest moments and scariest secrets, and not because they want to be your savior but because they want to be your partner through it.
What other books do you think Cool for the Summer is in conversation with? And do you have any recommendations for published or forthcoming kidlit?
From a questioning perspective, I think it’s definitely in conversation with my other f/f YA, Under the Lights, and also with Ramona Blue, in its uncertainty about labels on your place on the queer spectrum. I also think of it being in conversation with Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale, which also has a girl who used to have a secret romance with another girl and is now with a guy, and Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan, which has a messy route that has to go through The Guy to get to The Girl. And of course, if you want to put it side by side with another book that could be called “queer YA Grease,” you’ve gotta go with Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales.
And yes, I always have recommendations for published and forthcoming kidlit! I could go on forever, but I’ll keep to a theme. Since everything I answered here was about the queer aspect of Cool for the Summer, I’ll mention that Lara and Jasmine are also my first Jewish main character and love interest in one of my novels, and some other Jewish kidlit I love is Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli, The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, A Ceiling Made of Egghshells by Gail Carson Levine, everything by L.C. Rosen and Rachel Lynn Solomon, Color Me In by Natasha Diaz, It’s a Whole Spiel (which, okay, slight bias in that one), Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz, Kissing Ezra Holtz by Brianna Shrum, and the upcoming The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros.
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
What’s something about one of your characters that didn’t make it to the page? And in the case of Cool for the Summer, I have a special affinity for one of the secondary characters, and I think a lot about what she’ll be like in college. There’s sort of an “is she or isn’t she” question about whether she’s queer in the book, and in my head, I know the answer, but I like to keep it between me and her.
Dahlia Adler is an Editor of mathematics by day, a Buzzfeed blogger and LGBTQReads overlord by night, and a Young Adult and Romance author at every spare moment in between. Her novels include the Daylight Falls duology, Just Visiting, the Radleigh University trilogy, and the upcoming Cool for the Summer (Wednesday Books, 2021); she is the editor of the anthologies His Hideous Heart (a Junior Library Guild selection), That Way Madness Lies, and At the Stroke of Midnight (Flatiron Books, 2022); and her short stories can be found in the anthologies The Radical Element, All Out, and It’s a Whole Spiel. Dahlia lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @MissDahlELama.
Alaina (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.