Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Gail Giles

Posted on: March 3, 2015

GailGilesGail Giles wrote Girls in Us in part to give a voice to her former special education students. When she taught remedial readers, she learned that one reason they didn’t like to read was that the books didn’t connect with their lives. Giles also thought having all the books out there always offering hope was doing a disservice to teens. “The last thing to develop in a person’s brain is the sense of consequence, but the legal system decides someone’s not old enough to make a good decision about driving, getting married, buying alcohol or joining the military until 18 or 20 but we can put them in jail forever at 12.” Giles wanted to write stories that shows that sometimes it can’t be fixed and that reality is harsh. Her unconventional endings are because she wants readers to think and talk about them, not just easily dismiss and forget about them.

As for her own life, Giles didn’t have a happy or particularly safe childhood. Reading saved her. Early on, she liked animal stories and humor. Later, she tended to like stories without resolutions and dark humor. After her Nancy Drew phase in elementary school, she moved onto complex novels such Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird. “If you are angry, scared… whatever, there’s a book out there that tells you to hang on not to hang up. Just read and find your way. And if your world is easy and good and safe — read to understand those that aren’t.”

As for how she came to write, Giles also considers herself a rebellious but intelligent child. She recalls a pivotal moment in grade four. A nun came to my desk, told her that she was having a bad day, and needed a laugh. Could Giles write her a funny story? The nun told her to write a story about a family having a holiday dinner. This topic bored Giles, but then the nun said write it from an ant’s point of view. “So, I wrote. And erased and wrote some more. And I handed it in. The nun took the paper and began reading. And she chuckled. Then she blushed. I guess because she had chuckled. Then she laughed right out loud … I was only a legend in my own mind, but something real had happened. I was successful and had won approval. And I hadn’t been in trouble for an entire twenty minutes.”

PERSONAL

ALLISON: Describe a perfect childhood moment.

GAIL: The day I learned to read. I remember my first word. Egg.

ALLISON: You said you were a rebellious child. How so? What was your most defiant moment?

GAIL: I rebelled against anything and everything, but I remember most refusing to wear dresses when I was younger. This was in the fifties and very not done.

ALLISON: If you were to write the story of your teen life, what kind of novel might it create?

GAIL: Unbelievably good kid at school, good grades, socially acceptable, a complete horror at home. I was very unhappy at home and didn’t fit in there.

ALLISON: Who served as a role model for you during adolescence?

GAIL: My best friend’s mother, Mrs. Beeler.

ALLISON: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

GAIL: I loved my whole school experience and wanted it to continue. Teachers and librarians literally saved me from myself.

ALLISON: You’ve lived in several states. Which is your favorite?

GAIL: Texas. My grandchildren live here and it’s uh. . .Texas.

WRITING

ALLISON: Why did Girls Like Us take ten years to write? What kept you going?

GAIL: I wrote it ten years ago and it was just before it would be accepted and it wasn’t ready and really fleshed out. I worked on it on and off during those ten years. I just flatly believed those girls voices needed to be heard.

ALLISON: You write books that show the real consequences of bad decisions.

GAIL: What kind of research goes into writing these type of books?I do very little research. Teaching school for twenty years was twenty years worth. I do research if a write about a place I haven’t been or something that’s specific.

ALLISON: What is it about reading books that can save one?

GAIL: You can find yourself in books and find others like you and take yourself on a journey or plain old comfort yourself. You can show someone the way and learn to take your own new path. books consoled me and let me know I wasn’t alone and wasn’t so worthless and I was led to believe when I was young.

ALLISON: How can writing be therapeutic?

GAIL: Write often, don’t try to write a novel all at once, it’s like the old adage writing a novel is like driving a car with the head lights on, you can only see as far as the lights but you can complete the journey.

ALLISON: Have you ever considered writing for other ages such as picture books?

GAIL: Picture books are way too hard to write, but I’m working on a middle grade right now.

ALLISON: What are some of the best books featuring disabilities? What about them works?

GAIL: Right now the best book that has a character with a disability is All the Light You Cannot See. The main character is a young girl that is blind. I think what makes the best ones work is that the character is fully realized instead of just short cutting by concentrating on just the disability, like that’s the only thing that’s important about the character.

I’ll be back later in March with a review of Girls Like Us. Because I have spring break, March will be a little different for my posts. The first week I’ll post daily teasers and the second week I’ll post daily reviews. Save the date for my review of Giles’s book: March 10!

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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