By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Paula Chase to the WNDB blog to discuss her MG novel Turning Point, out September 15, 2020!
Distance threatens to tear apart a friendship. That is, of course, if a secret doesn’t ruin it first.
Told in dual perspectives, this provocative and timely stand-alone companion to Paula Chase’s So Done and Dough Boys will resonate with fans of Jason Reynolds, Rebecca Stead, and Renée Watson.
Best friends Rasheeda and Monique are both good girls. For Sheeda, that means keeping her friends close and following her deeply religious, Bible-quoting aunt’s every rule. For Mo, that means not making waves in the prestigious and mostly White ballet intensive she’s been accepted to. But what happens when Sheeda catches the eye of Mo’s older brother, and the invisible racial barriers to success as a ballerina turn out to be not so invisible?
Paula Chase continues to explore the lives of African American middle school characters from the Cove, a low-income housing project, in this stand-alone companion to So Done and Dough Boys. Both universal and specific, Turning Point is rich with thematic threads such as racism, body image, poverty, creativity, religion, Me Too, friendship, and family running through it. A rewarding and thought-provoking read for the older middle grade audience.
Turning Point is a companion to So Done and Dough Boys, but it’s a standalone, so it’s possible to read any of the three books first. What did you like most about writing companion novels?
At the heart of it, I love immersing myself in the worlds I build. So I’m always looking for reasons to stay there. Companion books give me permission to wonder about every character I introduce. Even if a character plays a relatively minor part in one of the books, a companion allows me to explore who they really are without worrying about it being chronologically attached to the other books.
When I wrote Dough Boys, my editor Virginia Duncan commented that the voice of Simp felt more forward than she had remembered him from So Done and that’s exactly why I love companion books. In So Done we met the boy characters as seen through the eyes of the girls. When we get to Dough Boys we meet them on their own terms and within their own personalities. It’s fun to switch who the lens focuses on.
What was the most challenging? Even though I have a few more liberties with a companion, in terms of time, there’s still a lot of details to keep up with. I’ve had to have my books nearby when writing because I’ve forgotten a character’s last name. And I mean a main character. It’s hard to keep all the tiny details aligned. If I don’t, I can very easily end up changing the outcome. Sort of like a time traveler. I have to be very careful what I touch so that I don’t disrupt the time continuum.
Are you normally a plotter or a pantser, and did you follow your usual writing process for Turning Point?
I am a certified, card-carrying member of the Pantser club. Plotting scares the crap out of me. I don’t even know why. I just know that I prefer to become the character and decide, in real-time, what’s going to happen to them.
In this book, Sheeda and Mo are best friends, and the story is strongly about friendship. Why did you want to write about the way friendships are often strained at this age, especially when you’re going through something very different from what your best friend is facing?
There aren’t necessarily rules to friendship but there is certainly etiquette. And there is no being more particular about friendship etiquette than a middle school girl. There’s a language among middle schoolers that dictate how they move. It doesn’t take much to unbalance the harmony, on a good day, so I wanted to take the characters on separate journeys of identity that would surely impact that harmony.
Spending the summer apart can be a challenge for close friends. Why did you choose to set the book up this way and have your protagonists deal with the fallout?
Usually, over the summer, life is about your friendships. Whether you’re chatting, DM’ing, or Facetiming all day or hanging out at one another’s home—those weeks with no school are crucial to sealing the bonds of friendship. Time apart from a friendship can make it stronger, but it can also help people get to know themselves without that friend. So there’s always the risk of growing apart in that space. Mo and Sheeda are forced to contend with their individual experiences. We see them connect via text throughout their time apart, but in the end, each day they had to go into their daily challenges alone.
There’s something jarring about going from having a comfortable circle with a hierarchy—whether anyone admits to that hierarchy is another matter—to feeling totally untethered to anything familiar. That’s what they’re experiencing and we see them struggle with it. We see them both crave familiarity even while they attempt to adjust to their new circumstances. I want readers to go through it with them because whether it’s being the new kid in school or new adult at work that type of experience is going to happen to all of us…often.
What is your favorite thing about Mo and Sheeda’s friendship?
That they understand their roles in the friendship and are seemingly comfortable with them. Sheeda is very aware that she lives in Mo’s shadow. Even as she grows, it’s not necessarily about wanting to be more in charge. In fact, we see her discomfort when put in that position as the decision-maker. And Mo embraces her take-charge personality. She’s unapologetic in her protectiveness. As much as the story is about how their friendship is impacted by the decisions made, while apart, it really is more about each girl growing comfortable in their own skin.
What other books do you think Turning Point is in conversation with?
Two books come to mind, one is a backlist book by Coe Booth, Kendra. Kendra goes on an emotional journey, with shades of Sheeda’s experiences. And Coe tackles the prickly relationship between Kendra and her cousin in a way that makes our heartache for how challenging girl friendships can be at that age. The other is Becoming Beatrix by Tami Charles because Beatrix is stereotyped, typecast and just plain judged much like Mo feels while she’s at the ballet intensive.
And do you have any recommendations for other published or forthcoming kidlit?
I’m very much beating the drum of trying to have books like mine categorized correctly. We’ve gotten too complacent trying to squeeze books into the existing categories and it costs us readers in the 13-15 age group. I’ve always written with this reader in mind, even when I didn’t realize I was doing it. I’d like for the powers that be in publishing, librarianship, and bookselling to begin seriously properly shelving Upper Middle Grade and Young Young Adult. In that spirit, I’ll offer some examples for each category:
Upper Middle Grade
They Call Me Güero, David Bowles
Don’t Judge Me, Lisa Schroeder
All of Me, Chris Baron
Young Young Adult
What Momma Left Me, Renee Watson
Redwood & Ponytail, K.A. Holt
The Inside Battle, Melanie Sumrow
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
What’s your favorite planet?
Jupiter because my husband has this app, Sky Map, where you can see the constellations and planets. I love that Jupiter is always depicted as this pretty yellow with a hint of red.
Paula Chase is the author of several books for teens. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a cheerleading coach and in public relations for a tech company. She is the cofounder of The Brown Bookshelf, a site designed to increase awareness of African American voices writing for young readers. She is the author of So Done, Dough Boys, and Turning Point.