Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with A.S. King, Author of I CRAWL THROUGH IT, STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO and DIG

UnknownIf you’ve known me for even a short length of time, you know that one of my all-around favorite authors and people is A.S. King. If you want to know why, I wrote a post about the top ten reasons I love her books here. I also talked to Amy for Shattering Stigmas last year, and you can find that conversation here. We had a lot to talk about, so I won’t spend too much more time doing introductions, but you should absolutely read all o Amy’s books that are out now, you should absolutely read Amy’s next book Dig when it comes out in March and you can find Amy on Twitter or on her website

Tay: Hi Amy! Thank you so much for coming back to Shattering Stigmas for the second year in a row to talk about mental illness, writing and more (so basically, all of the really important things). I’m so happy to have you back too, because talking about mental health isn’t something that’s done once and then we move on to something else. Instead, the conversation about mental health is something that needs to be an ongoing conversation that we all have, both with ourselves and other people.

Amy: Thanks for having me back, Taylor. I’ve had an interesting journey with mental health since I was last here, so it’s good to be back and I agree that this isn’t a conversation that ever really stops.

9781101994917-1.jpegTay: So first, Amy, you have a new book coming out in March called Dig that deals with secrets, racism, and class with a sprinkle of your signature surrealist style. To start us off, can you discuss how you approach or deal with mental health and emotional wellbeing in Dig?

Amy: Dig is a sprawling book. Bigger than my others and to me, more complicated. And yet, it’s simple when it comes to mental health. Basically, everyone has problems. And they all stem from secrets and issues that have been passed from the preceding generations. It’s sort of a bird’s-eye-view of epigenetic inheritance. Whether we believe it or not, it’s been proven that trauma passes down. But on a simpler level, lies also pass down (even the ones we tell ourselves) and so do secrets.

At first, only one character came to talk to me. The shoveler. And he was clearly dealing with anxiety, but it’s not like he knew what to call it. He calls it tunneling. You’ll see what I mean when you read the book. Another character came to me then, and she is also tunneling in another way. As the characters arrived, each was dealing with a household that wasn’t entirely healthy for them. I think this can probably be said for most humans.

I suppose the difference in this book compared to my others is that it deals hands-on with three generations of a family. I’d set out to explore how racism is passed down in “regular” or “normal” seeming families—because to me, that’s part of the code that needs cracking in order to start talking more openly about inherent and systemic racism. I dare say that racism or hate, in itself, is a mental health issue. At its core, it is a matter of perception, and psychologically, we are all slaves to our perceptions unless we are compassionate and emotionally intelligent enough to change or open our minds.

Tay: Like so many of your books, Dig has surrealist elements that remind me 28588459particularly of the surrealist elements in I Crawl Through It and Still Life with Tornado. How did the surrealism develop for you in Dig and what was new, different, exciting and/or challenging about it this time around?

Amy: Here was my biggest challenge: I didn’t know what had happened to my most surreal main character until I got to page 350. I just had no idea what the heck was going on. And I can’t tell you because that would be a spoiler. But like all of my books, this one came to me as I wrote it, and I was surprised by it, which is always exciting. But 350 pages was way too long to go without having that piece of the puzzle. I had to trust. I’m glad I did. But that meant the book took longer to write. That seems to be the way of things for me, now. I’m generally happy about that, too. I wasn’t spending enough time with myself for a long time. Now my 11-year-old is my yoga coach and I am addicted to meditating. That’s surreal in itself. Especially the yoga.

Tay: In our last conversation, we ended up talking a lot about how adults’ misconceptions and misinformed ideas about teenagers’ experiences ultimately harms those teenagers. In your books, you confront this dynamic by showing adults whose ignorance, obliviousness or outright aggression negatively affects the teens in their lives, often in the form of trauma such as in Reality Boy and Still Life with Tornado. In Dig, the grandchildren of a wealthy, white suburban family suffer the consequences of their grandparents’ decision on how to spread (or not) their wealth. What is similar and different in the way that you handled multigenerational traumas and secrets here as compared to the past?

Amy: I have to clear this up before I start on this answer. I want to change your question from “In Dig, the grandchildren of a wealthy, white suburban family suffer the consequences of their grandparents’ decision on how to spread (or not) their wealth” to “In Dig, the grandchildren of a wealthy, white suburban family suffer the consequences of their grandparents’ decision on how to spread (or not) their love.” While yes, the book is about how different generations deal with money or lack of it, it’s far more about how different generations deal with love. And problems. And mental health. In fact, let’s start there. How many of our grandparents suffered with mental health issues and what was the practice at the time?

I’ve been reading several psychology textbooks for my next project. I am specifically looking at how the psychological world has dealt with the study of emotion over the centuries. If we go back in time and see how people in the 1950’s and 1960’s were told to deal with their mental health and/or their emotions, we can see that it was not only taboo to talk about, but often just plain non-existent…even if it totally existed. As a culture we have left conversations about emotions—the whole spectrum of them from anger to joy—off the table. We oversimplify. For example, women were tagged “emotional” for having emotions and men were just not supposed to have them, bar anger and other “manly” emotions. This has led to an inequitable view of the genders which led to everything from uneven dress codes at schools, normalized domestic and sexual violence, i.e. the rape culture we live in daily. So talking about and showing emotion is an incredibly important thing. And it was this I wanted to write about in Dig and in most of my books. Because what limiting the discussion about normal human emotions does is harrowing for not only the people going through pain, but the families they have and raise, and our entire culture. If, as a society, we don’t support a move toward a more fluid emotional intelligence, we are creating a dangerous place for future humans. But isn’t that what we’ve been creating all along? More specifically, in families, what does love look like and how do we pass it on?

As a child, I was most probably seen as “too” emotional. I expressed my emotions quite a bit, for sure. And I also had a gut feeling that my emotions were important. And I didn’t understand why others didn’t feel the same way about their emotions. My parents were raised in the 40’s and 50’s. Different time. But also, my parents were not dumb or in any way blind to my emotions. They just dealt with them when they happened. And they dealt with them, sometimes as all parents do (me included) in the way they were taught. So my generation, Generation X, came to the seriousness about our mental health later in life. Most of us, anyway. When I look back, I can see I was probably a mildly anxious kid. But my life since I was a late teenager and beyond was filled with fear and my anxiety cut me off at the knees in my late 30’s. No one had ever told me about anxiety. No one talked about it ever. Like—not even in health class. HOW DO I KNOW WHAT THE COWPER’S GLAND IS BUT NOT KNOW THE BASIC FACTS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS? I went to high school in the 80’s. Why were we not being taught these things? The answer is simple. No one knew to teach about these things yet. The people who made the classes were all Boomers or older. It wasn’t mean or bad, it was just the way things were.

But here we are now. We have a situation where 70% of teenagers who have a mental illness are undiagnosed and untreated. That is not good. We know better. Why aren’t we dong more?

Well, we are…in spots. At my teenager’s high school they are doing mental health screenings now. That’s good. But who is talking to them about emotions? Who’s being honest with them about how feelings really work? If their Gen X parents weren’t taught to reach out to therapists then will they take their teenager to a therapist?

In short, our attitudes about mental health move with each generation. But it’s hard to get older generations to move with us. So it’s a slow bus. Change is always a slow bus.

Oh boy. I kinda went off there.

But yeah, the book is about love. Not money. Because that’s what matters to me the most. Love. Not money. It’s why I write books, that’s for sure. If I was in it for the money, I’d have stopped long ago! I’m in it to pass on the love. Because someone out there needs the compassion of a book.

One of the funniest things I deal with as an author is this idea that my books aren’t “really” for teenagers. Adults talk about this right in front of me—they claim that my writing or my ideas are maybe too sophisticated or deep for teenagers. They couldn’t be more wrong. That said, my books, Dig included (or maybe more so), are not just for teenagers. They are also for adults. The idea for me has always been to bridge the gap between teenagers and adults so the conversations that need to happen can happen. How ironic, then, that some adults are reading my books and claiming that teens may not be sophisticated enough to read them as well. It’s as if I’m trying to trick adult readers into caring about themselves enough to be able to change their perception of teenagers and care about them, too.

Tay: The community between these five teenagers that develops seems key to the premise of Dig. And last time we talked a lot about the importance of stories about mental health and illness that make us feel less alone and the value of bridging adults and teens by having adults listen to teens and teens feeling like their concerns are taken seriously. But what about community? What is valuable about people coming together to share an emotional burden? And what advice would you give your teen readers who are looking for that sense of community and might find it in your writing, but want it in their own lives?

Amy: Community is a hard subject these days. The world is changing and we are connecting more and more through online mediums than at community meetings. For mental health, we have online forums and even online therapy now. It seems as if we area a sort of global community—and I’m not entirely sure how to find that feeling inside of everyday life in a singular town. Especially if one doesn’t drive or have access to public transport. And what of the large percentage of teenagers who don’t have Internet access at home? What is their place in that global community if they don’t have access to it and how can they make their own communities stronger if most of their peers are engaging online more than in person? These are questions, not answers.

My own connection to community happened when I reached out to a local organization that I cared about and I volunteered. I met people there and made friends. I helped people in the community while I did my work and it made me feel mentally healthier.

That was vague. So let me be specific. As a survivor, I’d always wanted to help other survivors. I had done my own work around my past and felt strong, but I didn’t feel strong enough to do some of the harder work around helping survivors like helplines or advocacy work in hospitals law enforcement. (Massive respect to people who do this work. Massive, maximum respect.) What I found was V-Day and The Vagina Monologues. I have stage fright so I never could do the acting part, but I could help get the show on stage and I could work alongside other survivors who felt the same way I did—that we were doing good and raising money for survivors in our community and for V-Day, so they could help survivors on the front lines.

When I first knew of the show, I didn’t think I wanted to see it because I knew it talked openly about rape. But when I worked with the show, I felt as if those seven days surrounding the show—the late nights designing programs and rehearsing and decorating—those seven days made me feel better about the other 359 days in my year. So on a larger community scale, these opportunities are out there. But they are also rare.

As for smaller communities—groups of teenagers in school, etc. I do not know how to get them talking about emotions or mental health. This would seem to me to be a wonderful solution to a lot of issues we’re having. I know of school group sessions for kids who have lost a parent or for kids going through divorce at home, and I am aware of GSA groups and other clubs and communities inside schools that help others and talk about their own lives while together. But I am not aware of groups specifically formed for the strengthening of mental health or emotional literacy.

Tay: One of the things that stands out to me most in the description for Dig is this implied notion of the corrosive quality of “politeness,” especially in affluent white culture. Can you discuss a little bit on how we can push beyond the boundaries of “politeness” to talk about the issues that matter and specifically how that might serve ongoing conversations about mental health?

Amy: Well, the politeness in (I’ll call it suburban vs. affluent) white culture generally is one of the reasons we’ve always had trouble talking about race. And here are teenagers who are in that culture, and who are thinking about race…and who are coming up against, for most of them, either parents who don’t talk about race, who are racists, or who talk openly about race and the white supremacy. You can imagine which of the teenagers, then, is a bit more stable when it comes to that particular conversation. (If you didn’t guess, it’s the one whose father talks openly about race.) But mental illness? Oh wow. I mean, that’s a serious blind spot for pretty much most of the adults I know. Denial is supposed to follow us through life, you know? Facing problems isn’t easy and it often takes us decades to see our own. And again—I was raised in a time when you didn’t really talk about those things. I was [accidentally] actively taught to ignore my own needs. I think that description fits a large percentage of people. So in that polite culture—how does one broach the idea that one may feel suicidal? If you can’t talk about race, rape culture, or reality, and the reaction of polite adults is to shush you, then when, exactly, is it going to be appropriate to say, “Hey—sometimes I feel like dying and I’m not sure who to talk to about it?”

Ignoring the mental health issues of teenagers (or anyone) is not polite at all. Same as being racist isn’t polite. It all lumps together in this weird white adult world where being polite actually means not talking about things that make other white people uncomfortable. Shutting up a human being and whispering “That’s not a polite thing to talk about” is quite the opposite of polite. It’s cruel—especially if a person is trying to tell you about their pain.

So wow, I guess the way to push past it is to…push past it. Make people uncomfortable. Why not? I mean, look around. Are other people going out of their way to make YOU comfortable? No. So why do it for them? Live your truest life and talk about what you need to talk about. If the people around you are too fragile to handle the truth of you, then reach out to people who get it. They’re out there.

In re-reading that last paragraph, I feel somewhat hypocritical. I certainly practice what I preach here in my books, but in real life, I’m still working on it. So, maybe that’s why I write books. Definitely. That’s definitely why I write books. I am reaching out to people who get it. (Or not being polite…you choose.)

Tay: This year for Shattering Stigmas, I’m thinking a lot about how we push the conversations we’ve been having about mental health in and out of the YA community forward and what’s the next step. Where do you think we go from here?

Amy: I think it’s time to start talking about toxic positivity culture. No one is happy all the time. I think it’s time to talk earnestly about privilege and open our minds to admitting that we have been wrong. Adults, I’m looking at you. The children are watching and learning from you, like you watched and learned from the adults around you. And yes, we ALL judge. We all have false perceptions of others. I think we need to talk about that basic reactive judging all of us do. Start a new sort of living. The last few decades, we had to catch up with the Internet and the constant media bombardment. Now, it’s time to find a way around it in order to stay connected to ourselves in a way that makes us responsible, compassionate beings who want to learn new things about ourselves and others.

We must keep the conversation open. Our minds open. Our hearts open.

Tay: Thank you for answering my questions and coming back to Shattering Stigmas, Amy!

Amy: Thanks for having me, Taylor. I really appreciate that you continue to keep this conversation open.

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Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with A.S. King

UnknownHello everyone! I am so, so honored, thankful and thrilled to feature one of my favorite authors, A.S. King, today for Shattering Stigmas. Amy is a fantastic writer and a lovely person. She writes unflinchingly raw, real and honest books about teens that are complex, vibrant and full of hope. Her latest YA book, Still Life with Tornado, is about Sarah, a girl who has an existential crisis and deals with the implosion of her parents’ marriage via various past and future versions of herself. It’s weird, it’s real and it’s lovely like Amy’s other YA books including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Everybody Sees the Ants and Glory O’Brien’s History of the FutureYou can find her on Twitter or on her website.

You tackle so many critical teen mental health and wellness issues in your book from grieving the loss of a parent to bullying to domestic violence to the pressures of standardized testing. What usually comes first, the characters or the issues and contexts that they’re placed in?

Characters seem to come first for me. They show up and start talking and tell me about themselves. I don’t think beyond that. They have to tell me what to think about. In Sarah’s case, after she told me her first chapter, I thought: Why does she think there’s no such thing as an original idea? What’s so wrong with her that she couldn’t fight this claim? What’s she trying to tell me? And then I write and she tells me, eventually. In this case, I found out over time that her father is a controlling abuser and the whole family system has been adjusted in order to allow him to do this in a way that feels normal. But it’s anything but normal.

You’ve mentioned in the past that part of the fuel behind your writing is to help teens understand adults and help adults understand teens. How do you hope your writing builds the bridge for teens and adults to talk about the real stuff like mental illness?

The first step in that equation is: adults need to read the books. If they don’t, then they can’t be reached. The bridge is inside the writing. When teens read it, they feel as if someone understands them and they also, through the adult voices I write, get a chance to see why the adults around them may seem distracted or uninterested. Adults who read my books—the ones who write to me, anyway—are usually floored by the fact that they could “feel” their teenhood again and they find things there (as we all do throughout our lives) that are messing up their present day lives. I’ve had people as old as 70+ write to tell me that my book changed their mind about something that happened to them as a teen—they’d never taken it seriously before. Why? Because that’s what teens hear all the time. Not to take things too seriously. Things are “a phase.” Things aren’t so bad, this is hormones. Etc. When really, more than a quarter of teenagers are suffering from mental illness in silence because adults have a hard time taking them seriously. Teenhood is when many mental illnesses come to light. As parents, we forget that—no—we aren’t told that, so we often don’t even know it. We blow off all sorts of things. Our culture approves of this blow off. And then you end up with statistics like this one: The second leading cause of death of those aged 15-19 is suicide. If this doesn’t make us stop and finally TALK about mental illness, I’m not sure books can. Parents must be willing to walk halfway across the bridge and drop the stigma of reading a book about teenagers first, then they might be willing to drop the stigma of teens with mental illness.

If there’s anything I know, it’s that people with a mental illness usually do not know what is going on. If that person is 35, a friend or family member may say, “You should see a doctor.” But if that person is 15, a friend or family member is more likely to say, “You’ll feel better tomorrow—this is teenhood, kiddo.” So, my books are here to help young adults recognize that not only might they be going through something inexplicably hard and not just normal teenhood, but I also aim to urge them to SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT. And if adults read my books, they might actually LISTEN. Most of the adults in my books are living with bad stuff because they feel stuck with it. I’m here to say: yeah, we’re all stuck with some stuff but we don’t have to be stuck with others. There are many ways to live life and see the world. And we can help ourselves and help our loved ones if we could just LISTEN.

Many of your books feature surreal twists such as Lucky’s visits to Vietnam in Everybody Sees the Ants, the kids in I Crawl Through It and the Sarah’s in Still Life with Tornado. Can you discuss a little bit about how you use surrealism to represent mental health or psychological journeys in your writing?

Mental illness is surreal. I know because I am surrounded by it in everyday life. Shock is surreal. I know because I’ve experienced it. Being bullied is surreal. Again, I know because I’ve been there. Psychological journeys are most important to me because they accompany every other kind of journey. Regarding mental illness, we just rarely talk about it and it’s still so surrounded by shame that people are judgmental about it rather than compassionate. Which is downright weird if you ask me. So surrealism certainly fits into my work because the world in which I live—the world in which we all live—is super surreal.

We have become a huge number of unconnected people vying for some sort of trophy. Depends who you are which trophy you’re aiming for, but we seem to have forgotten that we are all little pieces of a far larger thing. Maybe that vision is too big to fit into the viewfinder, and I get that. But in real life, we should be helping each other more. We should be talking to teenagers and helping them grow and learn and not lecturing them about how they’re always on their phones. Dude. I’M ALWAYS ON MY PHONE TOO. And so are most adults. I see them everywhere. 70% of the adults who drive by my house are literally looking at their phones while they drive. But sure, tell us again how it’s the teenagers who are ruining everything.

So yeah. Surrealism is a huge part of my work because I think life on Earth is surreal. But being a teenager—in a culture that pretty much thinks you suck and you’re stupid at every turn—is surreal. (Much like being part of any marginalized group is surreal because this same attitude rules the lives of so many people long beyond teenhood.)

 

One of the goals of Shattering Stigmas is to dismantle the stigma against mental illness by creating a safe space for people to discuss these issues and raise awareness about mental health via their favorite mental health reads and personal experiences. I know that talking and writing about mental health is important to you. Could you say a bit about why you think writing about YA is so crucial and has your view of it changed between when you first started writing and now? 

I wrote for a long time not knowing I was writing YA. This is a common story. However, I have my own reasons. (I was in a foreign country where YA didn’t exist like it does here.) But once I started writing YA knowingly, I guess I thought back to myself as a teenager and how much I needed books that made me feel like I wasn’t so awful. Or how about this? I needed books that helped me understand myself without judgment. Or I needed books where I could see myself and see a character like me succeed. I spent most of my youth hearing that I’d never get anywhere if I didn’t do A, B, or C. I was sure I was going to be a complete loser for life. Turns out A, B, and C were not the only way to succeed.

As for how my writing has changed, I don’t know. The more I meet teenagers all over the world, the more I see the stigma of just being a teenager. And the more I want to offer an outreached hand to help in whatever way I can. A small escape from the hazing, I guess. It makes me more determined to keep writing the books I do, even though I’m always broke and need a few other jobs to survive. Money means nothing compared to helping human beings. I have no idea where I got that idea, but I know I’ve had it from a very young age because I used to have recurring dreams about it. (Which you will see in a graphic novel one day soon.)

  

Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in YA?

 I had to think about this one for a while. You know, I think YA has some great representation in the fiction arena for most mental illness or emotional upheaval. What I’d like to see more of? Non-fiction. Books that are there to help teens deal with their mental illnesses and see the symptoms themselves because at this point, I’ve given up on adults figuring it out. I’m not saying all parents are awful. It took ME more than a year to figure out something was going on with MY KID. My partner went undiagnosed for 45 years and in our 30 together, I never once thought to look up his behavior to see if it was a result of a mental illness. I just thought he was being a jerk. But he was suffering. Badly. And now here we are, a family who talks openly about mental illness. Healthy—as healthy as we can be—day to day. So, I’d like to see more non-fiction, self help, maybe alongside story collections, poetry, things that both enlighten the reader to the symptoms or spectrum of symptoms of a disorder, and then a story or poem that relates. (Whoever runs with this idea, please let me know. I’d love to contribute somehow.)

  

Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share?

I am not very good at self care. I’m working on it. One of the things I most need in my day is time alone to just sit by myself. This is hard for my family to understand sometimes because as far as they can see I’m in here in the office alone all the time. Why isn’t that enough? (Answer: because I’m working in here, not “being by myself.”) So I have learned to tell my family that I am going to go sit by myself and take some time. And they have learned that this isn’t a huge deal—and that I just need some time.

 

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Amy! It has been such an honor to host you on my blog for Shattering Stigmas.

Thank you so much for asking me to join in and thank you for your work. We have to start talking about this a lot more than we do. Books with mental health issues in them must stop being mislabeled as only “issue books” with a roll of the eyes. Because those “issues” are real and people live with them every day and I have had it with eye-rolling. Condescending to teenagers (or things connected to teenagers) never helped one single teenager. Not ever. It’s our job—society’s job—to help them if they need help and stop this consistent lack of respect. I thank you for caring enough to keep talking about it. ROCK THAT, TAYLOR TRACY!

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Posted in Top Ten Tuesday

Ten Reasons I love A.S. King’s Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book meme run by The Broke and the Bookish. Find out more information about it here.

This week’s topic:

June 7: Ten Reasons I Love X — could be a certain book, character, author, your indie bookstore, a fandom, a tv show, reading, a hobby, a genre. Honestly anything you want to gush about.

I had a few ideas for this prompt, and decided to spotlight one of my all-time favorite authors, someone whose books make me proud to say I read, support and love YA: A.S. King.

A.S. King is the award-winning author of several young adult novels, each of which unflinchingly tackle tough teen issues through well-developed, unforgettable voices. She is the author of seven young adult books including the Michael L. Printz Award-Winning novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz and her most recent novel, I Crawl Through ItHer next novel, Still Life with Tornado is expected to be published on October 11, 2016.

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So why do I love A.S. King’s novels so much? Here’s why:

1. The Voices are Honest: From the moment you begin an A.S. King novel, you get the sense that she trusts her readers, whether they’re a teenager or an adult. She trusts them to be smart and to be able to place themselves within her stories. Her narrators don’t spoon-feed so to speak. Rather, they confront tough subjects and tell the story that they need to tell, cutting through the bullshit and focusing on telling a good story. From Lucky  struggles against bullies and his family’s past to Vera Dietz’s fight to clear her dead best friend’s names, King’s novels deliver raw, honest narrations that pulled me into the world of her characters.

2. They’re Super Weird: King’s writing is weird in a good way, the kind of weird that makes you wonder what she’ll do next and then blows you away (even if it makes your head hurt). Her surreal feminist manifesto-esque novel Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future infuses the weirdness of drinking a bat and suddenly being able to see everyone’s past and future ancestors with feminist critique, resulting in a powerful novel. Her latest novel I Crawl Through It uses surrealism a la Kafka to critique the system of standardized test and crisis preparation plaguing contemporary schools.

3. They All Made Me Sob: It’s not an A.S. King novel unless you’re sobbing by the end (or more accurately, halfway through). She makes you feel so attached to the character and writes so passionately that I can’t help but get sucked into the emotion of the narrative. It’s the best type of crying though, and it made me enjoy all of her novels that much more.

4. They’re Funny: King’s novels won’t only make you cry, they’ll make you laugh too (sometimes to the point that you’ll start crying). King’s sense of humor is the right amount of twisted and brutally honest and real, leading to a lot of laugh out loud moments in each of her books.

5. They Talk About Important Stuff: I love fluffy romances, and while I know I’ll probably get some romance in one of King’s novels, I know I’m not going to get a whole lot of fluffy. And I LOVE that. Her books bring seemingly insurmountable issues down to a personal and human level from love to the Vietnam War to death to feminism and more.

6. They’re Incredibly Well Written: There isn’t a single novel of hers where I haven’t been sucked in by the second page. Period.

7. They Have Great Characters (But Especially the Girls): A lot of my favorite characters live in A.S. King’s novels, and her female characters reflect a lot of my own inner and outer turmoils. Astrid Jones. Glory O’Brien. Lansdale. Stanzi. Vera Dietz. Lucky Linderman. Gerald Faust. I love them all.

8. They’re Densely Emotional: Each of King’s novels feels like it deals with a spectrum of emotions, but highlights one or two in particular. I Crawl Through It looks at anxiety in all its forms. Reality Boy looks at anger and shame. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future looks at control, or lack there of. Everybody Sees the Ants scrutinizes the diverse range of human pain. And so on.

9. They’re the Kind of Books that Make You Slow Down: Even though I want to, I can’t race through one of King’s novel. I find they take me a while to read, because I want to make sure I catch each word and detail and emotion. And that’s a great thing.

10. They Tell a Damn Good Story: By the end of each of King’s novel, I felt like I had gone on a journey with the character. It might not have been a definite resolution, but it felt like an end. And when I looked back, I could see the outline of the overall story. A.S. King is an amazing storyteller. Period.