When I wrapped up last month and when I talked about exciting books that come out this month, I mentioned Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined, the latest novel from Danielle Younge-Ullman. I enjoyed this book so much; it was emotional and had a lot of depth to it, and there were serious moments, but it was also really funny, and so engaging. This is one book that I think is going to be talked about a lot – and it completely deserves praise! As you can probably tell, I enjoyed it a lot, so I’m so excited to be hosting an interview today as part of the blog tour for this amazing book.
Here’s the description and the book cover:
Ingrid has made a deal with her mother: she gets to go to the school of her choice as long as she completes a three-week wilderness programme. But when Ingrid arrives, she quickly realizes there has been a terrible mistake: there will be no marshmallows or cabins here. Instead, her group will embark on a torturous trek, with almost no guidance from the two counsellors and supplied with only the things they can carry. On top of this, the other teen participants are “at risk youth”, a motley crew of screw-ups, lunatics and delinquents. But as the laborious days go by, and as memories of her complicated past come flooding back, Ingrid must confront the question of whether she shares more in common with these troubled teens than she’s willing to admit.
- What made you decide to write part of the novel as letters?
Actually, the letters were the starting point for the book, and they came from a blog post that I’d written years ago about a wilderness trip I’d been sent on as a teenager. The blog post took the form of a letter, as that seemed the best way to tell the story, and it was that blog post/letter, that made me realize I should fictionalize the experience. The letters are really the heart of the book, and were the easiest part to write.
- The novel switches between Ingrid’s present and Ingrid’s past. When writing the book, did you work in chronological order, or did you chop and change between the present and past?
I started with the Peak Wilderness trip and wrote a bunch of that, but once I introduced the past element, I switched back and forth as I wrote.
- The end of the book is rather optimistic with regard to Isaac and Ingrid’s potential relationship. Do you have a specific idea of what happened for them after the end of the book?
They’re young, and with any romance at that age big life transitions are coming and whether they’ll be able to get through those is a big question. Though they have a deep connection, they’ve only really begun getting to know each other, and they have a lot of ground to cover. But I feel like they do get that chance—to get honest with each other about what’s happened, to start fresh with better communication, to give their relationship a go. They’re both intense, and both very loyal, and they’ve waited a long time for this, so I expect it to be a beautiful rest of the summer, and for them to manage the long distance, at least for awhile. How long it lasts, though? I don’t know!
- A large part of the book is set at an extreme camp. What was it about the idea of a camp that made you want to write about it?
At the end of high school I was sent on a wilderness adventure very similar to the one that is portrayed in this book, so that’s the inspiration. The reasons my mom sent me were entirely different than Margot-Sophia’s, and obviously all of the characters on the trip are different, but I was as unprepared as Ingrid, and had a terrible time. For years it was kind of a funny story in my family, but the fact that I had such a breakdown out there in the wilderness always kind of haunted me. I had been to camp before, and yes this was much more extreme, but why wasn’t I able to cope? Writing this book was a way to tell that story and explore those questions, albeit in a fictional way.
- Mental health arose as a theme in the book, which I wasn’t expecting when I first started reading it. Why did you choose to include it as a theme?
I’ve had people close to me go through depression, and I think a lot more people suffer from mental illness than we’re aware of. It’s debilitating, and so hard for the person suffering, and for the people close to that person, too. When you love someone who is dealing with any kind of mental illness, there is such a feeling of powerlessness, and it can seep into every part of your life.
- Are there any elements of the plot which you didn’t originally plan that worked their way in, or did you have a firm idea of what would happen right from the first draft?
I am not a detailed outliner. I do a general outline, but for me it changes constantly. I tend to know where I’m going in terms of…personal growth and emotional outcome…but the particulars remain foggy until I get close to writing them. So, to answer your question, there were many elements of the plot that I had not worked in!
- If Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined became a film, who would be in your dream cast?
I would love to hear what other people think, but I don’t want to personally cast it in case what I say ruins someone else’s vision of what those characters look like. I’ve had that happen as a reader—I’ve built a character in my mind, and then I read something where the author is like, “Oh, I imagine that character as Zac Efron!” (or whomever) and then my own idea of what the character is like is ruined, especially because it’s the author who’s said it, as opposed to, say, a friend who I could argue with about it.
- Your book has been published in multiple countries, so there are several different versions of the cover. Do you have a favourite?
It’s impossible to pick a favourite at this point, and I am so fortunate to be able to say that. It’s been such a joy to see how different designers in different countries interpret the story visually, and then also target their readers. I am very fond of the UK cover, with its bright colours and butterfly/moth symbolism.
- What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read a ton, and not just the type of books you think you want to write–read broadly to expand your knowledge and your palate. Write! Keep journals, write short stories, poetry, whatever—just write. And also, really live your life so that you have experience to inform your stories. Of course you can also go to school for creative writing, and there are some great programs out there, but I don’t think that’s a must-have in terms of making a career. To be clear—I DO think you need to study—study language and literature and grammar and life—but in my case I have an English degree with a major in Drama & Theatre, went on to be an actor for a few years, and then started writing. Everything I’d been doing up to that point helped me to become the writer I am now, and for each writer the path is different.
- Are you currently working on your next book? Can you share any information on that?
I am. But I can’t share any info about it yet…sorry!
And that’s that for the interview! Thank you so much to Danielle for answering my questions; I hope you all enjoyed reading her answers as much as I did. A big thank you as well to the lovely people at Scholastic for setting up the interview, I loved being able to ask Danielle about this amazing book. I guess the only thing left to say now is that you should definitely read Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined if you haven’t already.
Danielle Younge-Ullman is a Canadian novelist, playwright and freelance writer. This is her second YA novel, and would be her first published in the UK. She studied English and theatre at McGill University in Montreal, then returned to her hometown of Toronto to work as professional actor for ten years. This was character-building time during which she held a wild variety of acting and non-acting jobs–everything from working on the stage and in independent films, to dubbing English voices for Japanese TV, to temping, to teaching Pilates. LOLA CARLYLE’S 12 STEP ROMANCE (Entangled/Macmillan May 2015) is Danielle’s YA debut. Danielle also wrote the critically acclaimed adult novel, FALLING UNDER, (Penguin, 2008), published a short story called “Reconciliation” in MODERN MORSELS, a McGraw-Hill Anthology for young adults, in 2012, and her one-act play, 7 Acts of Intercourse, debuted at Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival in 2005. Danielle lives in an old house in Toronto that’s constantly being renovated, with her husband and two daughters.
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!