In her Dirt Diaries series, the third and last installment of which I recently reviewed, author Anna Staniszewski continues to develop the character of tween-aged Rachel Lee in a refreshingly positive way. The narrative in this book is not watered down into a simplified, black and white, good versus evil story. Books such as The Gossip File go against a lot of the images mainstream media feeds us, in which extreme drama created by the collision of bad versus evil is encouraged, if not actively nurtured. I broached the topic previously when I had the opportunity to talk with Andrea Pyros, author of My Epic Year of Rock, and decided to delve into it a little more with Staniszewski.
I would love to hear more about your view of Rachel’s age group as that of rational, intelligent, well-rounded individuals, which contrasts with the way society often sees them.
This is an interesting question and one that I often consider as I write stories about “tween” characters who are moving from the “child realm” into the “teenage realm”. When I think back to my own eighth grade experience, I remember feeling both empowered by the new-found freedom of being able to stay out later, go places without adults, etc., but also frustrated at how much I still wasn’t allowed to do. I think that frustration comes across in Rachel’s character because she’s being expected to be responsible enough to hold down a job and mature enough to handle her parents’ separation, but she’s also expected to go along with what her parents decide is best for her. It’s certainly not an easy place for her to be, but that’s why I find it so interesting to write about!
Why did you find it important to explore how Rachel sought refuge in the character of Ava, behind whose identity she was able to do and say things she otherwise would not have been able to?
I think we’ve all wondered what it would be like to be someone else, even for a day. Since Rachel has already made great strides in finding her voice and her confidence throughout the series, I wanted to test her a bit more in the third book by giving her the chance to be someone else for a little while. Would she still like herself after being Ava? Or would there be things that she would realize about herself that would make her want to continue to change and grow? Having Rachel be mistaken for someone else also added another humorous element to the story that I could have a lot of fun with. I wanted Rachel’s story to be one of self-discovery, but I also wanted it to be full of humor and heart.