By Sara Conway
Today we’re pleased to welcome Meredith Ireland to the WNDB blog to discuss her young adult novel The Jasmine Project, out September 7, 2021!
Jenny Han meets The Bachelorette in this effervescent romantic comedy about a teen Korean American adoptee who unwittingly finds herself at the center of a competition for her heart, as orchestrated by her overbearing, loving family.
Jasmine Yap’s life is great. Well, it’s okay. She’s about to move in with her long-time boyfriend, Paul, before starting a nursing program at community college—all of which she mostly wants. But her stable world is turned upside down when she catches Paul cheating. To her giant, overprotective family, Paul’s loss is their golden ticket to showing Jasmine that she deserves much more. The only problem is, Jasmine refuses to meet anyone new.
But…what if the family set up a situation where she wouldn’t have to know? A secret Jasmine Project.
The plan is simple: use Jasmine’s graduation party as an opportunity for her to meet the most eligible teen bachelors in Orlando. There’s no pressure for Jasmine to choose anyone, of course, but the family hopes their meticulously curated choices will show Jasmine how she should be treated. And maybe one will win her heart.
But with the family fighting for their favorites, bachelors going rogue, and Paul wanting her back, the Jasmine Project may not end in love but total, heartbreaking disaster.
Hi Meredith! Thank you so much for joining me on We Need Diverse Books. The Jasmine Project is your debut novel; how are you feeling? What has your publishing journey been like so far?
Hi and thank you so much for having me! I’m a huge fan of the mission and actions of We Need Diverse Books and I’m so happy to have this opportunity. Um, I’m doing as well as can be expected. Somewhere between calm and screaming into a bag of chocolate. My publishing journey has been a wild ride. I signed with my agent through the very first DVPit and it took a while to land my first book deal, but it’s been (mostly, kinda) smooth sailing since.
As an East Asian adoptee (I was born in China), seeing adoption representation front and center in YA is so validating! But the fact that The Jasmine Project isn’t about searching for the character’s biological parents was another thing that really stood out to me. Being adopted is just a part of Jasmine’s identity. What inspired you to write a Korean adoptee MC but without the “adoption journey” plot?
It was extremely important to me as a Korean adoptee to have an adopted MC. I simply never saw myself as a main character in the books I read growing up. I, like many POC writers, first wrote white characters because that’s what I grew up reading. Then as an adult the representation did improve but too often I pick up a book with an adopted MC and it’s all about finding and longing for birth parents. And frankly the representation is often poor—that we’re not whole, or somehow lesser because we don’t know our biological parents. Searching for biological roots is a valid storyline but I promise we do other things like fall in love or fold laundry. I wanted to write a story where being adopted informs the character and is a part of her life, the same way it is for me, but isn’t “about” that.
I love how integral Jasmine’s large, boisterous, and humorous family is to the story. Were you drawing from personal experiences when writing the family members and their dynamics (I especially appreciated the group chats)?
They were so fun to write! I definitely drew from some personal experience. My family is Italian and could drunkenly break into “That’s Amore” or start a kick line to “New York, New York.” My grandmother was the matriarch and a phenomenal cook. My father was a librarian and my mother was a nurse. But many of my family members died when I was younger so I suppose I wrote the family I’d like to still have.
What sparked the Bachelorette-esque story? Was Jasmine the first character/voice that came to you in creating this book?
The Bachelorette story was actually my editor, Jennifer Ung’s idea. I’m more of a Love is Blind addict. I think we do love these types of reality shows because there is such a romantic and fun aspect to them along with the drama of a competition. People love watching other people fall in love and want to believe in it. Jasmine was definitely the first character and voice that came to me. I loved writing someone who was settling, who wasn’t a fierce heroine ready to burn down the world but more one with more quiet strength. I could definitely relate to Jasmine’s need to find herself and her own self-worth because I’ve been guilty of settling for safe more than once.
There are so many ups and downs in The Jasmine Project (and many cute guys and cute moments). Did you have a favorite scene to write? Were there any that were particularly difficult?
I absolutely loved writing the scene in Publix! I went to college in Winter Park, Florida and loved going grocery shopping there. And it seemed like something that has happened or totally could happen to me: where I’m not dressed to be seen by anyone and somehow run into a cute boy. I also actually had the Raisin Bran/letting cereal marinate in milk discussion with people, so it was fun to draw on that. It was hard to write the dark moments in Jasmine’s life because she became pretty real to me other the months I was working on this and it’s hard to put your faves through pain.
Food plays such a big part in Jasmine’s story, from her dream to be a chef to being surrounded by food during family gatherings. My mouth was definitely watering reading some of the descriptions! What was your research process like (if you had one), and how did you go about writing these moments?
I actually love to cook. My love for it came from my grandmother. She was an amazing cook. Like Jasmine’s family, I started making Italian food and branched out over time. I worked in fine dining restaurants between college and law school—not as a chef but as a bartender and server, but I was in the kitchens a lot. I have vivid memories of watching the line cooks and I’m kind of a foodie. I definitely had some Google tabs open, including for French Laundry, where I swear I’ll go eat one day. I have been to Paris and eaten there though, so I drew a lot of the food scenes from my own experiences.
If you could create your own panel, what would the topic be and who would be on it?
Oh this is a hard one! I’d love to talk about craft with cool authors I’d fangirl over. More than anything though I’d like to be able to be safely back in person for events. Zoom is lovely, but it’s not the same.
What is a question you wanted to be asked more often, and what is your answer?
This is actually only my second interview, so I don’t have any yet. I’ll keep you posted.
Going back to food, but what is a dish that reminds you of home?
Sunday dinner reminds me most of home. My grandmother used to make Sunday dinner. In my family that meant bowtie pasta with gravy (red sauce), meatballs, braciole, sausage, salad, roasted chicken, antipasto, roasted nuts, and then all of those white boxes tied with thin red string that contained amazing pastries and cakes from bakeries in Brooklyn.
And lastly, what are you currently reading, and what are some books you love recommending? Are there any books that you are looking forward to?
Oh I always have books I can recommend. In adult my favorites are: Circe, An Unkindness of Magicians, The Starless Sea, Station Eleven, The Hating Game, The Black Sun, Jade War, and The Night Circus. In YA there are too many to mention, but what comes to mind: The Star Touched Queen, Sadie, And I Darken, When The Moon was Ours, Allegedly, and The Secret of a Heart Note. In MG I recently devoured the first Tristan Strong book and adored it. I’m looking forward to You’ll Be The Death of Me and Jade Legacy.
Meredith Ireland was born in Korea and adopted by a New York librarian. Her love of books started early and although she pursued both pre-med at Rollins College and law at the University of Miami, stories were her fate. She currently resides with her two children, and Bob, a carnival goldfish, who’s likely a person. She writes young adult books, some of which you may like. The Jasmine Project is her debut novel.
Sara Conway is a New York-based writer of many things, including books, art, and music. She is currently a library page at her local library, where she discovers even more books to add to her ever-growing TBR pile. Sara also runs Lyrical Reads, a book blog dedicated to uplifting diverse voices, with a soft spot for Asian and Asian American stories. She can be found writing reviews for her book blog, taking photos for her bookstagram, or (re)tweeting about all the books on her Twitter.