Brooklyn author addresses cyberbullying in moving debut novel
Brooklyn BookBeat: Paperback launch party slated for Dec. 3 in Park Slope
Bullying is a tragic epidemic that continues to torture children and teens – and in the digital age, which facilitates cyberbullying, the severity and incidence of such episodes is only escalating.
Park Slope author Kimberly McCreight delves deeply into the gravity of this sensitive subject in her debut novel “Reconstructing Amelia,” which enjoyed several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list when it was released last spring. As the book is soon to be released in paperback (Harper Perennial; on sale Dec. 3), McCreight is celebrating with a book launch party at powerHouse on 8th in Park Slope. At the Dec. 3 launch event, McCreight will appear to discuss her work and sign books.
“Reconstructing Amelia” is about a mother’s love for her daughter, but it’s not your typical family-centric story. The thrilling plot and poignant characters are inspired by McCreight’s own experience as a mother, and her keen insight into the complexities of both motherhood and adolescence makes for an eerily real story. Kate, a single mother and partner at a law firm, one day receives the worst possible news imaginable from her daughter Amelia’s Park Slope private school: Amelia is dead. Kate is told that her daughter was distraught over being caught cheating and jumped from her school’s roof, impulsively committing suicide. But soon after she is sent an anonymous text that tells her “Amelia didn’t jump.”
Upon seeing those three words, Kate knows there is truth to them. Drowning in grief, she attempts to make sense of the situation by searching through Amelia’s social media and communication outlets. She pieces together Facebook updates, emails and texts, gradually discovering the troubling secrets that her daughter concealed, including romantic crushes, hidden friendships, and heartbreaking moments of betrayal. The text, replete with snippets of online and text lingo, is written with a rawness that rings true to anyone who has experienced adolescence or raised a teen in the internet age.
In anticipation of McCreight’s Brooklyn launch party, the Brooklyn Eagle spoke to the author about what moved her to write this story. She tells us about her path to becoming a writer (after working first as a lawyer), and shares with us what she loves most about being a writer in Brooklyn.
How has your experience as a Brooklyn mother shaped and informed this novel?
“Reconstructing Amelia” was certainly inspired by my experiences as a mother, specifically my fears for my daughters as they grow older and my own feelings about how truly impossible the task of mothering is—particularly when you’re juggling a career or other responsibilities, too.
But I don’t think there’s anything specific about being a Brooklyn mom that makes any of that better or worse. Apart maybe from having to walk long distances with your children in the freezing cold we’ve had lately!
My daughters are too young yet to have cell phones and their lives have been blessedly free of bullying thus far, but I know that there are storm clouds on the horizon. That soon they will have whole worlds—online and otherwise—that I will know nothing about. And I do worry about how best to protect them.
I’m doing everything I can to keep them talking. So far, it’s working. We’ll see how long it lasts.
Did you have any hesitations about writing a book set in your own neighborhood?
Not at all, perhaps because the novel isn’t “about” Park Slope. “Reconstructing Amelia” is the story of a mother and daughter who could live in any town or any city throughout the country. They just happen to live here, in my town. I set the book here because I love Park Slope and thought it would be fun to live here in two ways at the same time. But I did make a conscious choice to steer clear of the Slope’s many stereotypes, most of which I don’t find accurate anyway.
The book has received widespread praise from writers and critics; has it been received similarly by your neighbors?
I’ve had unbelievable support from parents in my community, many whom I don’t even know. They are outstanding and insanely generous cheerleaders. So many of them have read the book and regularly come up and tell me their reactions. I feel like I’ve made so many new friends as a result. It’s truly more than I ever could have hoped for.
Can you talk a bit about your career transition from law to writing?
While I enjoyed law school, I discovered pretty quickly that actually being a lawyer wasn’t satisfying for me. I craved something more creative and had long been harboring dreams of being a writer. I initially took a one-year leave to write my first novel. When that didn’t sell, I wrote my second while working 80-hour weeks. When an agent told me that the book wasn’t sellable (and it was pretty bad), I decided, counter-intuitively perhaps, to quit and give it a go full time. I guess I figured that I couldn’t keep waiting for “success” to determine who I was.
Of course, it wasn’t an easy decision. We went from two incomes to one and I had huge law school debt. If I had known how long it would take—ten more years and three more novels—for me to actually sell one, I don’t know that I would have been quite as brave. I had actually decided that “Reconstructing Amelia” would be my last attempt. I received my first job offer in more than a decade on the eve of the auction for the novel. I was thrilled to have gotten the job offer, but I was also over the moon to be able to turn it down.
Brooklyn is known for its rich literary tradition and community – is this something you’ve noticed and found helpful as a writer living in the borough?
I love living in Brooklyn, as a writer especially. There are so many incredible bookstores and amazing literary events for inspiration. But most of all, it’s having so many writers as friends that I love the most. And it’s not just novelists, there are an incredible number of journalists and non-fiction writers, too, all of who understand, not only the struggle of first draft, revision and the rest, but the sometimes harrowing publishing world. Plus, living in Park Slope with so many writers, you never have to explain how you can actually be working really hard at home in your sweatpants.
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The Dec. 3 event will begin at 7 p.m. powerHouse on 8th is located at 1111 8th Ave. in Park Slope.
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