Callie is shocked when her friend Ivy reappears after an unexplained three-year absence, but the girls pick up where they left off, and suddenly Callie’s summer is full of parties, boys and fun. Beneath the surface, things aren’t what they seem, however, and when a handsome boy with a dark past gets tangled up with Ivy, the girls’ history threatens to destroy their future.
Tell Me More: Multi-perspective novels can very easily be hit or miss, as they require the writer to have a strong grasp not only of the story, but of the individual characters’ voices. Their motivations and flaws need to unfold clearly, and without judgement on the writer’s part. The Death of Us is a case study in triple-vision, taking a familiar type of story and dividing it in some very interesting ways.
It’s the kind of book you read in one sitting, and understandably so. The mystery behind the end of Callie and Ivy’s friendship will intrigue and frustrate readers (in a good way). Callie’s almost-brusque tone will be easy for teens to relate to, and her irritation with her family isn’t new to anyone who’s gone through adolescence. Younger readers will enjoy Callie and Ivy’s antics, and older readers will recognize the points where it could go wrong, adding to the suspense.
If it was possible, I would have wanted The Death of Us to be a bit longer. While Callie and Ivy’s sections added to each girl’s characterization, Kurt was not as richly drawn. Then again, this isn’t Kurt’s story. His presence in their lives brings out parts of their nature that were already there, points of conflict that would have emerged at another time maybe, but maybe not with the same intensity or opportunity to resolve them. Whether or not they do resolve those conflicts is for the reader to find out.
The Final Say: Reminiscent of We Were Liars, The Death of Us is a story that grows more vivid with each reread.
As part of the blog tour, I was lucky enough to be able to ask Alice Kuipers about her writing process and reading interests!
Angel: How did you decide on the structure and points-of-view in The Death of Us? Was it easier or more difficult than you expected as you wrote and revised the novel?
Alice: The voices of Kurt, Callie and Ivy were there from the start but finding the right structure to tell their story wasn’t. I think it was about, um, draft fifteen (!) that my editor suggested I wrote an outline for this novel. I’ve never done an outline before and I wish I’d done it earlier. But I think I had to be at that stage of the writing process (at least, I tell myself this), to be able to see how this story was going to play out. It’s strange to hear the voices of characters in my head, faintly at first, then growing louder as I get the hang of their story. The Death of Us was hard work at times, but thrilling nonetheless.
Angel: Are there specific aspects of your writing process that have stayed the same throughout all your books? Has anything changed?
Alice: I’ve become more patient with myself. I seem to have this process that involves writing a lot of words that I don’t use. I always write a second book at the same time that never gets completed. I flip from book to book, writing thousands of words that never get used. I can’t recommend it as a practice, but I get there in the end. My first novel, Life on the Refrigerator Door, was all about finding the essential without writing a lot of words. It seems that’s what I’m always trying to do. Each book has involved a lot of editing, but I’ve learnt that the editing is the writing. Sure, I can write 2000 words in a day, but to really write those words, I need to use everything I’ve got to make them the right words.
My editor said to me: Sometimes the books that seem the easiest to write require the most editing. That is very true for me. The first draft of The Death of Us was easy. But it wasn’t the draft that made the most of the complicated structure, voices and story I was trying to tell.
Angel: What is the appeal of contemporary YA to you as a writer and a reader?
Alice: I love reading YA. Anything, everything. I love the dystopia stuff, the wild and crazy worlds, all that. But I really enjoy writing about characters in real life situations who are growing into the adults they’re going to become. It’s so interesting to write about someone who is going to be forever changed by what life is throwing at them. A YA character might be going through these emotions for the first time and they way they deal with those emotions really shapes their future. For me, realistic fiction explores that in a way that I find satisfying as a writer. I don’t know quite why, but I always find myself writing in that mode.
Angel: What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
Alice: Calm determination. I got it tattoed onto my back when I was eighteen to remind myself always to live like that. I used to be more frenetic and anxious. I have, I think, finally become calmer. And very determined. Determined to write the best I can. Determined to parent the best I can.
I’d also tell myself: avoid the boy with long, blonde hair. The one with the guitar and beautiful mouth. That was a nightmare I wish I’d stayed well away from.
Alice Kuipers is the author of Life on the Refrigerator Door, an award-winning Young Adult/Adult crossover published to rave reviews in 28 countries and told entirely in post-it notes written by a mother and her daughter. Named a New York Times Book for the Teen Age, Life on the Refrigerator Door has won or been short listed for numerous prizes, including the Redbridge Book Award, the Sheffield Libraries Choice Award, the Grand Prix de Viarmes, the Saskatchewan First Book Award, the Salt Lake City County Library System Reader’s Choice Award, and the Carnegie Medal.
Alice’s second novel, The Worst Thing She Ever Did (published in the US as Lost for Words), won the 2011 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile / YA Crime Book; was short listed for the White Pine Award; and was a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year selection for 2011. Her third novel, 40 Things I Want to Tell You, was published by HarperCollins Canada in 2012. Alice’s debut picture book, Violet and Victor write the Best-Ever Bookworm Book, is forthcoming from Little, Brown.
Born and raised in London, England, Alice now lives in Saskatoon, Canada, with her partner, the writer Yann Martel, and their three young children.