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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

Author Sarah Dessen coming to Montreal

When my three daughters were younger, sharing stories was an important daily bonding experience. We would snuggle up together in their beds and immerse ourselves in the worlds created by different authors. Some of my earliest memories are ones in which I’m pressed against my mother’s side, bedtime book in her hand. As my girls have grown into young women, we now share books, and discuss characters and plotlines.

It is this type of relationship that the Jewish Public Library will try and foster as it holds its 11th annual Girls Night Out Event on November 15, which will bring in well-known young adult (YA) author Sarah Dessen, who has published some 12 books since 1996; two of which served as the basis for the 2003 film How to Deal starring Mandy Moore and Allison Janney.

“I was so excited by the fact that we in Montreal can encourage New York Times bestselling authors to come here and talk to our girls and their mothers,” says Penny Fransblow, librarian at the Jewish Public Library.

Dessen is big news in the hot YA genre, and was the one who actually extended the offer to speak at the event. She says she is extremely excited to speak with an audience of girls and moms. The event will give her the opportunity to interact directly with her pre-teen, teen and young adult readers, many of whom have writing aspirations themselves. In addition to her prolific writing, she is committed to teaching young writers.

“I didn’t take my own writing seriously until I got to college and I had a professor tell me, ‘You are good at this,’” she explains. “If you are going to be an accountant or a nurse or a teacher, there is a straight trajectory; there is no such thing for writing. But there is no one way to be a writer. You write and you work hard and hopefully you catch a few breaks.”

Dessen, who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, says it took a while before she could make a living as a writer. She recalls that when her first book came out, she was still waiting tables.

“I had these dreams that I would get published and make all this money and my life would change,” she said. “But it didn’t. It was a first book with a small press run and I didn’t have a lot of marketing support. I went to Kinko’s to photocopy and staple [my marketing materials] and went around from bookstore to bookstore.”

Dessen said that she often had to take time off from waitressing to do a book signing so she would actually lose money. “It helped that my parents were very supportive. They helped me financially and emotionally. They believed in me. I feel lucky for that.”

Although her 12 books have a recurring theme of teen girl protagonists facing difficult situations, she’s found a new appreciation for the mother characters since she had her own daughter, Sasha Clementine, seven years ago.

“When I first began writing, [it] was from the perspective of the daughter. The moms were so controlling. But my mom was never like that to me. My mom was as intricate and complicated as anyone else. When I had my own daughter, it was like, ‘Oh, [your mom] just wants the best for you.’ It’s given me a lot of depth.”

However, Dessen doesn’t see herself shifting focus from teenage girl protagonists any time soon; her own adolescence was so complex that she still feels the need to write through it in her books.

“I was pretty unhappy in high school. I was kind of a mess. It’s like I was rewriting the past and my own happy ending. I hated high school. I remember being at graduation and thinking ‘get me out of here – I never want to see you people again.’ “

Dessen’s stories and insight into the mind of teen girls is exactly what Fransblow was looking for when she started Girls Night Out at the Library. “My mother-daughter book club was going out as a group to see the movie Sex and the City. I said why should these young girls go see that kind of movie when we can organize an evening just for them. Let’s make it a fancy evening with cloth tablecloths and special treats. Since then, it has grown a lot.”

She sees the evening out as a great opportunity for bonding: “You can ride home with your daughter in the car and maybe what the author said will ignite conversation.”

Virgin Radio’s Kelly Alexander will emcee this year’s event, which takes place Sunday, Nov. 15 at the Jewish Public Library, 5151 Cote Ste. Catherine Rd.

To reserve tickets, call 514-345-2627 ext. 3016 or email jessica.maldoff@jplmontreal.org.

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