By Thushanthi Ponweera
Today we’re pleased to welcome Jesmeen Kaur Deo to the WNDB blog to discuss debut young adult novel TJ Powar Has Something to Prove, out June 7, 2022!
As her carefully crafted sense of self begins to crumble, TJ realizes that winning this debate may cost her far more than the space between her eyebrows. And that the hardest judge to convince of her arguments might just be herself.
This book tackles multiple themes such as body positivity, stereotypes, gender norms, and identity. Which one was most important to you as an author?
I think I came into this book thinking largely about the general concept of body image, but walked away at the end having learned about all those other themes you mentioned. Because all of them play a part in how we view our own and each others’ bodies. It was an eye-opening experience for me to really examine how our perspective on beauty is often shaped by social prejudices. That was incredibly important to address, and I think made the book much more layered and nuanced.
What about your protagonist TJ do you admire the most?
I admire her inner strength. Going into this book, I knew I was going to put my protagonist through multiple situations that were my worst nightmare in high school. I needed a main character who had ice in her veins. And TJ does, but she’s also not infallible. She gets hurt in this book—a lot, sometimes by the people closest to her. She makes so many mistakes because she’s trying to protect herself from further trauma. But she pulls through and despite being so stubborn, she’s open-minded enough to change her perspective on a lot of things. It takes real guts to stick to your guns when everyone doubts you—but even more to admit when you were wrong about it.
What advice do you have for other debut authors?
I think my fellow debuts are handling things a lot better than me! I don’t feel qualified to give advice. But I can tell you something that’s been helpful for me leading up to debut, in case it resonates with anyone else: I try not to hinge my happiness on external factors out of my control. I know, easier said than done. There’s a lot of loud and exciting things that can happen during debut year! But at the end of the day, any longevity I have in this industry will come from within. When all the hubbub dies down—and it always will, eventually—it will just be me and the work again. Just like it was at the start. So it’s important to not lose sight of the reason we came here in the first place, the love for storytelling. The rest is out of our hands.
As a former debator myself, the setting intrigued me! What are your favourite “school” stories?
Thank you! I recently read My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farroll Follmuth and loved it. It’s about a girl who joins the robotics team at her school and has to fight through the old boys’ club to be taken seriously. I also adore Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi, a lighthearted yet sneakily thoughtful younger YA which by the way also touches on body hair in a really relatable way. And Not Here To Be Liked by Michelle Quach is so much fun. On top of its nuanced feminist themes, it’s got an amazing fake-hating romance!
What do you hope this story will encourage readers to re-evaluate about themselves?
Generally speaking, I want teens reading this book to come out of it understanding there’s nothing wrong or shameful about their bodies. And more specifically, I would love to change a brown girl’s perspective on her body hair. When I think about the things I—along with every other brown woman I know—missed out on as a teen because of that internalized shame and stigma, it makes me a little sad. I don’t want anyone else to go through that. If this book changes things for at least one teenage brown girl out there, my job will be done.
Jesmeen Kaur Deo grew up in northern British Columbia, where she spent most of her childhood daydreaming. She loves books that can make her laugh and tug at her heartstrings in the same paragraph. When not wrapped up in stories, she can be found biking, playing the harmonium, or struggling to open jars. TJ Powar Has Something to Prove is her debut novel.
Thushanthi Ponweera is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books and a WNDB 2021 picture book mentee with author David LaRochelle. She was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka where she lives with her husband and two children. She grew up reading and falling in love with stories about children and places that were foreign to her. She believes that someday children from around the world will read and fall in love with stories about children in Sri Lanka. She hopes to write those stories. You can find her on Twitter @thushponweera and on Instagram @bythush.