Today author Jenny B. Jones answers RT reviewer Lindy J. Swanson's questions about Jones' latest novel, There You'll Find Me. This inspirational Young Adult tale follows Finley Sinclair, a teenage girl who travels to Ireland after a tragic loss. The story has a strong spiritual dimension and RT's Lindy suggests that it will serve many youth groups as a great discussion starter or teen book club selection.
How much of Finley Sinclair’s personality reflect some of your own traits and can you elaborate on her character development?
I really tried to make Finley NOT me in this book. She does have my sense of snark, and uses humor for every situation, from happy to sad, but that's probably about as far as it goes. Finley is unlike any other character I've done because she's going through something that is darker than anything I've ever written. Finley has just lost her brother, and while the rest of the world continues, she's just frozen in her grief. Her world will never be the same, and it's crippling her. Like all my characters, she is purposely strong, independent, uses humor as a defense, and trying to make sense of a life through the lens of faith.
Death and dying can be an uncomfortable topic for young people who feel invincible yet, you are able to draw your audience into a parallel universe with Finley as she grieves over the loss of her brother, Will. Please elaborate on why you chose this as a main element in the plot sequences?
The cool thing about this book is it's a spin-off from my last romantic comedy for women, Save the Date. In that book, Finley's brother tragically disappears, and we see her for just a little bit on stage in this book. So in There You'll Find Me, a young adult novel, she gets her own story. We see what happens to her after the happily ever after for the couple in Save the Date.
I think death is relevant to teens because it's around this time (or earlier) an adolescent starts to realize life is fragile, that grandparents get older, that things can't stay the same. Finley has to find her new normal after she loses her brother. She doesn't just lose a family member, but she loses her idea of a good God, family as she knows it, and nothing is familiar anymore. She questions everything, she doubts everything. It takes her into this dark pit, yet she covers it well. Going to Ireland is her chance to start over and become that whole girl again. But it's not that easy. She may be in a new location, but she brings all her old issues, and time has run out for her to keep them tampered down.
Will’s journal becomes such a source of fascination for me throughout the novel. His voice is very strong and supportive and leads us to the cemetery of crosses. The famous Celtic cross that takes us throughout the Irish countryside, does it truly exist and how do readers find this place for themselves?
Oh, yes. It does exist. There's no way to do it justice in the book, no way to describe it with mere words. The cemetery is at a monastery called Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, Ireland along the River Shannon. Since 545 AD, its been a place of war and a place of peace. It is both of these things for Finley. She uses her brother's travel journal to create a piece of original music for a conservatory audition that her whole future depends on. Yet the hunt for this cross in the journal becomes so much more than that. When she finally finds it, she's at a place where she needs to lay her hurt and anger down, when she must make a choice about being honest with the secrets she's carrying.
The cemetery is just row upon uneven row of these Celtic crosses, and there is such a peaceful hush about the place. There is also truly a tower nearby where black birds have lived for centuries, circling the land, their brash caws breaking into the tranquility. Light and dark both live in this place. But the light absolutely overwhelms. In the book, you want that to be true for Finley as well.
How did you develop the character Beatrice? She treats Finley so badly and seems really in touch with the darker side of life and abusing her power as the daughter of the head principal?
Beatrice is your typical mean girl. We all know her. We all went to school with her. Heck, some of us WERE her. The Beatrice's of the world don't go away when you graduate from high school. They just grow up and show up in college, at your next job... I needed someone to be the enemy of Finley, someone who would stand in the way of her relationship with Beckett, the actor and love interest. And when there is a famous Hollywood teen actor involved, I think it could turn any girl into a jealous shrew.
Community service projects are presented as a way for youths to earn credits for class. This turns into more than just a project for Finley, but a true life-changer. Did something like this happen in your life personally or as a high school teacher and please describe the nature of the activity that changed your own life?
I teach part-time at a high school, and to graduate with honors, our kids have to do extensive community service. I think that's pretty common for teens, so hopefully it's relatable. But in this endeavor, Finley meets Mrs. Sweeney, who is a dying woman in the nursing home, a woman Finley must "adopt" and spend lots of time with. It's the last thing Finley wants, spending time with someone else who will be taken from her. And Finley is not in a place to be wanting personal attachments. Yet every day she spends with the cranky Mrs. Sweeney is another day Fin realizes the woman is just as wounded as she is. That Mrs. Sweeney not only needs Finley's help to resolve things before cancer takes her, but that Mrs. Sweeney is basically Finley in sixty years--if she doesn't turn things around.
Teen relationships can be complex and highly emotional. Beckett pursues Finley and they both discover that they are living double lives. You are able to keep their relationship fun loving and serious at the same time. How did you determine and can you give me an example of where you researched the psychological intensity of their friendship and budding romance?
Everything in the book has to be told through the filter of humor, including the romance or I will just shrivel up and die right at my M&M covered desk. It's got to be fun for me too! Beckett and Finely are two people who, despite their grieving hearts, like to keep it light. While teenagers do fall in love, for me as an author, it's important to write about the teen romance that is still full of tension and romance, yet just...fun. I want them to be fun. There are similarities in the two. Both Beckett and Finley have hurts they've been carrying around for years, things that they've patched up in their own ways; but like fixing a leak with tape, their protective measures cannot hold. So it's interesting to see them come undone--together. They each need the other to heal. They each see how the other needs to fix his/her life. But yet they can't see their own dysfunction. Beckett was a lot of fun because he's a popular teen actor, kind of a Robert Pattinson type of guy, and we see him paired up with an average girl. I enjoyed writing the contrast. And the whole acting, dual identity theme runs throughout for many of the characters.
Being a foreign exchange student sounds interesting and a good source of personal growth and development. Your characters may inspire others to search out Irish host parents. Did you set out to inspire others to travel to far away places on a spiritual quest or was there another ulterior motive?
My ulterior motive was I had gone to Ireland and needed a tax write-off. Ha. And truly, I just fell in love with the place. You've got to go there. It's beautiful; it's romantic and full of poetry and life. And filled with the nicest people you will ever meet. I live in South, home of Southern hospitality, but the Irish have us beat in kindness. In terms of setting and purpose, I wanted Finley to be isolated, away from home and on her own so we could get a really good look at her frailties and strengths. Sometimes those rise to the top (or sink) when we're out of our comfort zone. I wanted Finley out of her norm to push some issues to the forefront.
You can pick up your own copy of There You'll Find Me in stores now! And for another inspirational author interview, check out our Q&A with Alison Strobel. And check out our Everything Inspirational Page for more genre coverage.