Today, I have Allen Zadoff, author of Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have, here for an interview. You can find my review of his book here, and more information about him on his website.
What are your feelings/opinions on how YA books deal with the topic of body image and self esteem?
I have to be honest and say I don’t really know how YA deals with this issue as a whole. I’m really writing my own experience in these books. In FOOD, GIRLS, I tried to write about what it felt like for me to be different in the world, both in high school and as an adult. I will say this: Life was complex for me as a kid, and I prefer books, films, and tv shows that portray it this way. I like stuff that is juicy, interesting, difficult, and amazing. What doesn’t work for me: “fat kid miraculously becomes thin and life is perfect”. That may happen from time to time, but it never happened to me!
There is a lot of pressure on teens (from the media and from their peers) to look a certain way, but it seems like more books are aimed at girls than boys. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think a market exists for more body image books for boys?
Absolutely! And I’m writing them. I think the male perspective in YA is very important, and I actually get more letters from girls than I do from boys. I think it’s exciting for girls to get a window into the male mind, and to know that boys have feelings, too, including feelings about their bodies, how they look, and how others look at them. I think it’s less cool for boys to talk about this stuff in our culture, so I try to write about it. I hope boys will read it and feel less alone. When I was a kid, I felt like I was crazy and I was the only one thinking about this stuff. Only much later did I learn that it wasn’t true.
The main character in your book is a high school sophomore, but the book could appeal to readers who are older or younger (in my opinion). Was there a reason for Andy’s age?
When I wrote FOOD, GIRLS, I was thinking about my own life when I was 15 years old. I fell in love for the first time around then, and I was really struggling with food and my weight. That’s why I made Andrew that age. But as a novelist, it’s my job to write from a lot of different perspectives, and I get a surprising number of letters from adults who really connect with the book. My favorite type of letter: “I’m reading this at the same time as my son/daughter, and we’re both laughing and loving it!”
What was the most challenging part of writing “Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have”? What was the most rewarding?
I really enjoyed writing FOOD, GIRLS, and I think the biggest challenge was to tell the truth as best I could but to do it in an entertaining way. Although I did not have Andrew Zansky’s exact experience in high school (I never played football, for instance, though I was asked), I was definitely a fat kid and felt many of the same feelings as Andrew. The most rewarding thing is to be able to share it with readers. As was mentioned before, there’s not a lot of YA from the male perspective, especially when it comes to body image issues.
You’ve also written a memoir that is aimed at adult audiences. How was that experience different from writing for teens? Do you prefer one over the other?
I wrote a memoir for adults called HUNGRY: LESSONS LEARNED ON THE JOURNEY FROM FAT TO THIN. It talks about my real world experiences losing over 150 pounds when I was 28 years old. Imagine that. I was fat for nearly 28 years, and now I’m a normal weight. It’s like I’ve lived two different lives, and I wanted to talk about that. While I loved writing HUNGRY and I hope it’s helped and inspired a lot of people, I’m a big fan of the YA community. The readers are more passionate, more organized, and really excited about books! There’s nothing that makes an author feel better than to meet people who love reading, and YA people are like that. So no offense to the adult marketplace, but YA is much cooler!
What are you working on now?
I’m very excited about my next novel. It’s called MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES. It’s a high school theater novel with a very interesting twist. It’s told from the perspective of the techies, the backstage crew who are at war with the actors. The main character is an aspiring lighting designer. I loved theater when I was in high school, and I actually ran the undergraduate theater company when I went to Cornell, so this is a topic that is really personal to me. The novel is funny and sad all mixed together. It’s due next Spring from Egmont-USA. You’ll be hearing a lot more about it soon.
What are some of your favorite books or authors?
I’m very lucky to meet and work with amazing YA authors now, people who inspire me as artists and a few of whom I’ve gotten to hang out with. Forgive me for just mentioning the guys here, but here I go: Andrew Smith, Barry Lyga, Ben Esch, James Lecesne, Francisco Stork, Blake Nelson. If you haven’t read their work, I recommend it!
Thanks Allen for answering some questions and for participating in Body Image and Self Perception Month!