Author Nina LaCour says her novel We Are Okay is in ways the most personal book she has written. The winner of the 2018 Michael L. Printz Award, We Are Okay (Dutton Books for Young Readers (Penguin Young Readers), February 2017) follows Marin, who has left her San Francisco home behind and moved to New York where she enrolls as a freshman in college after the sudden death of her grandfather. Her best friend Mabel comes to visit and Marin must confront her deep loneliness, grief and the secrets she’s been keeping. We talked with LaCour about her award winning novel.
How is the novel personal to you?
In many ways this is the most personal book I’ve written, even though none of the events or situations in the story actually happened in my life. When I was writing this book, I was grieving the loss of my own grandfather, dealing with the fallout of my parents’ divorce, recovering from a pregnancy that could have cost me my life had I not had the right medical care, and learning how to be a mother. So all of these themes — changes in family, loss, grief, love, parenthood and daughterhood, death — permeated the story.
How did it feel writing this novel?
Writing this novel was incredibly cathartic for me. My process was the same as it always has been, which is that I write in fragments of scenes, moments of dialogue, notes, etc. and then piece them together to form an outline of sorts. Then I get to work connecting everything and filling it all in. But even though the process was familiar, writing this book felt different. Basically, I poured my heart out and didn’t worry whether it would be too sad or too slow or too heavy. I just wrote what I felt — which at the time was a combination of sadness and anger and hope and radiant love.
Tell us how you define “family” and what you hoped this book would convey about the idea of family.
To me, family is made up of the people in your life who you know will be there when you need them, and who you know you will be there for when they need you. There is so much power in being family for someone — being there at the hospital, offering a bed when one is needed, checking in every day or multiple times a day when times are hard, or, as in the case with Mabel’s family, waiting until the time is right to prove your devotion to another person.
What’s a part of the book that is meaningful to you?
I’ll share a sentence from the book that captures part of what this novel is about to me, which is the difficulty of recognizing your past self and past life after a monumental change has shifted the way you see your world. When I wrote this sentence, I felt like it was an encapsulation of the heart of the novel. We were innocent enough to think that our lives were what we thought they were, that if we pieced all of the facts about ourselves together they’d form an image that made sense — that looked like us when we looked in the mirror, that looked like our living rooms and our kitchens and the people who raised us — instead of revealing all the things we didn’t know.