What inspired Everything Leads to You?

Several things. I’ve always been interested in writing a book about two girls falling in love, but I don’t typically write love stories. My stories always have an element of romance, but they aren’t love stories. Writing one was a thought on the back burner for a while. So for this new one, I finally decided: I’m going to write that love story.

Then I was invited to a high school in Minnesota in 2011 for my first novel, Hold Still –it had been assigned as a school-wide read. Three thousand students were given a copy, along with the faculty and the librarians. Everyone was so incredible there – they designed a whole curriculum around the book. One of the reasons they chose it was that there was controversy surrounding the school district because nine students during a period of a couple of years had committed suicide. It really shook the community. There was some speculation that at least several of those students had been questioning their sexuality. Part of the controversy was that the school was in a very conservative area and the school had something called the “neutrality policy” which barred faculty and staff from speaking with students about their sexuality. They had to remain neutral around any “gay issues.” This ended up hurting the students, of course, because there were students being bullied and they couldn’t go to anyone to talk or to get resources and help.

In response to this policy there was a faction of open-hearted and inclusive faculty members and librarians who rallied together in support of the students, and then the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights sued the district on behalf of some of the students and ultimately the school had to change their policy.

As part of my trip there, I met with the Gay-Straight Alliance. I was prepared to talk to those students about pretty heavy things since they’d lost some friends to suicide and their school district hadn’t supported them – though, I want to be clear: they had some really supportive teachers and librarians. So I was expecting so much heavy stuff, but then a student asked, “I heard somewhere you might not be totally straight.” And I said, “Yes, well, I’m married to a woman.” And then they had all of these other questions, about whether the students that I teach know that I’m married to a woman, and if my parents know, and just generally, what was it like to be married to another woman. The more I spoke to them the more I realized that we need more affirming and happy stories about all kinds of love. But especially stories about girls falling in love and boys falling in love. After my visit with them I went back to my hotel room and decided that my next book would be about this.

Interestingly, then, Everything Leads to You is a romance between two girls, but two girls having a romance isn’t the “issue” or “problem” of the novel. Do you feel like that’s happening more often now in YA?

I’m sure that it is, but I have found that most of the books I’ve read that have gay characters have at least one of them struggling to come out or come to terms with his or her sexuality. On one hand, I think it makes sense there aren’t as many love stories that don’t have to do with identity, because as teenagers many kids are just realizing they are gay. I’m not saying that I’m doing something ground-breaking at all, either, and I really value those coming out stories, but I wish there were others. Malinda Lo’s Ash is a good example of this, I think. There is sexual awakening there, but it isn’t a crisis. But I do hope that there will be more and more books like this in the future.



Genius Duke project calls out the offensive phrases we say every day

The normalization of homophobic and misogynistic language, especially among young people, is nothing new. But while there may be a growing awareness of the problem, there haven’t been many organized initiatives dedicated to eradicate these types of problematic expressions — until now. Enter Duke University’s campaign “You Don’t Say,” which is an effort to remind students that language is powerful, and that word choice has consequences. 

The Duke project uses photos to show how casual slurs like “no homo,” “tranny,” “that’s so gay” and “you’re such a pussy” target women and the LGBT community. In the series, Blue Devils students explain why they have adjusted their language. 

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