I've known Julie Berry for quite a few years now, ever since she came back to Vermont College of Fine Arts as an alum and we met while I was a student. She's smart and savvy and a good friend, and she's written some wonderful, fun novels, but my favorite is her most recent, ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME. It's a fascinating story that I'm recommending to everyone as one of my 2013 top reads. Here's a synopsis:
"Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family.
Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who's owned her heart as long as she can remember--even if he doesn't know it--her childhood friend, Lucas.
But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever.
This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith's passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last."
Congratulations, Julie, on your stunning new novel, ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME. That second person address is such a twist – well done! Please tell us how you were inspired to write this story.
This project began by accident. I was working on my critical thesis, a lengthy research paper assigned during the third semester at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and I read some material in a craft book about second person point of view. I wondered, could I write something in that voice? I reached for my laptop, flipped it open, pondered for a bit, then wrote the first page in one sitting. Very little of it has changed to the present day. The voice appeared from that moment, and it remained throughout the process. It was one of those little miracles you pray for as a writer. Looked at another way, though, it was an act of homework procrastination.
One of the reasons for the novel’s appeal, I think, is that your setting feels both real and timeless. Can you comment on that?
The setting unfolded gradually. I saw it, at first, in a somewhat misty focus, swirling into view only as needed around Judith, as if she were walking through a cloud. I knew from the outset that I could not set this in a historically known place and time, because I didn’t want Judith’s story overshadowed one smidgeon by the expectations we bring to standard historical fiction (much as I love them where they properly belong). At some point I needed to make some decisions about what era to pattern this time period after, and the early modern period is a useful one in that the world still feels antique, pastoral, and pre-technological – which is where I think that nostalgic sense of timelessness resides -- but society has already begun to confront issues of philosophy, politics, reason, religion, and ethics that feel recognizable and relevant to us today.
The way that you handle Judith’s mutilation is deft and realistic. Was this something you had to research?
I wanted desperately to research it, but I couldn’t find any sources at all. I did consult informally with a practicing speech therapist, but most of my research came from personal practice and imitation. I spent a lot of time talking as I believed Judith would attempt to do, and documenting the sounds and sensations I observed. After the book came out, I met a reader at a book club meeting who was also a speech therapist. She had worked with a patient who, for medical reasons, ended up in a physical plight much like Judith’s. She told me that the depiction of Judith’s journey toward speech rang true to her own experiences with her patient. I felt so relieved and grateful to know it.
Above everything else, for me this novel is a moving love story. Is that how you would describe it?
I think so. I hope so! I wanted very much for readers to fall in love with this love story the way I did. It’s nice to know you felt that way.
I’m in awe of the way that you handle time – short, back-and-forth passages and no chapters. Somehow it works – not only is it not confusing, it adds power. How did you craft the story?
Strange as it may seem, the structure, the ordering, the length of chapters, the non-linear movement through chronological time, just happened that way. I wish I could say I architected it all in keeping with a brilliant master plan, but this is simply how Judith’s story unfurled. It was a singular experience.
Anything else you’d like to add? What do you have coming next?
I have a middle grade murder mystery coming out this fall from Roaring Brook which I’m really excited about, titled The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. It’s three parts murder and two parts farce, and, of course, one part Victorian schoolgirl hijinks. It’s very different from All the Truth That’s in Me, but I like to keep things interesting.
Thanks so much, Julie!
Book on Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780670786152