Lauren Spieller Discusses She’s the Worst
The Children’s Book Review | September 3, 2019
Lauren Spieller is an author and literary agent who lives in New York City with her husband. When she isn’t writing, she can be found drinking lattes, pining for every dog she sees, or visiting her native California. She is the author of Your Destination Is on the Left and She’s the Worst.
Denise Mealy: Welcome to The Children’s Book Review, Lauren! We’re so excited for you to join us. This is your second book, and it’s just as hilarious and heartfelt as we’d hoped. It also has one of the best titles (and covers) I’ve seen in a long time! It’s the perfect read for Fall.
Let’s start by discussing your latest book. Can you tell us about SHE’S THE WORST?
Lauren Spieller: I’d love to! SHE’S THE WORST is the story of two sisters—16-year-old April and 18-year-old Jenn—who have grown up on the west side of Los Angeles. They were extremely close as kids, but in recent years they’ve grown apart—April is more focused on sports and hanging out with her neighbor, and Jenn is committed to acing her classes and spending as much time as she can with her boyfriend, Thomas.
When the book opens, Jenn is about to start college, but April notices that her sister seems really bummed to be staying in L.A. for school while Thomas goes off to Stanford in northern California. So despite the fact that they don’t really get along, April decides to arrange a fun day of activities for she and Jenn to do together—it’s part distraction, part last ditch effort to fix their relationship. But when secrets come out, the girls have to decide if their bond can withstand the truth, or if their days of being close are gone for good.
Los Angeles is painted so vividly. How do you nail those scenes and make us feel like we’ve got the sun on our shoulders with April and Jenn?
The secret ingredient is…I’m from L.A.! When I sat down to write this book, I knew I wanted to write a love letter to the place I grew up. Not everyone likes Los Angeles, but I’m a firm believer that if you spend enough time there to truly get a sense for the place, and to see how diverse and exciting and beautiful it is, you can’t help but fall in love.
Which sister did you identify with more, and why?
Oof, this is tough. They both have a little bit of me in them—I created them, after all! But right now, I’d say I’m a bit more Jenn than April. But I was definitely more of an April when I was a teenager!
My heart ached for Jenn and (no spoilers!) her struggle between what her parents wanted and what she envisioned for her life. How did you create that realistic tension, and do you think this is a common theme for YA readers today?
I’ll be honest, I drew on a lot of personal experience here. I didn’t grow up in a family with as much fighting as Jenn’s, but my parents split when I was in high school, and I felt a lot of responsibility when it came to making sure everyone else was okay. As for YA readers, I think that feeling of being pulled in two directions—on the one hand, your loyalty to your family, and on the other, your desire to live your own life—is universal and timeless. It’s part of being on the verge of adulthood, and of figuring out who you are.
Writing these books could not be more different. I drafted and revised the first over the course of two years, and I wrote and revised SHE’S THE WORST in less than nine months. DESTINATION was more of a meandering plotting and revising process (which is partly why it took so long to finish), while SHE’S THE WORST had a very clear outline from the beginning.
But they do have commonalities too. In both, I set out to write realistic, ambitious girls that have to deal with family conflicts (and boy drama). Both books also involve an almost road trip—DESTINATION is about a nomadic teen that wants to settle down, while SHE’S THE WORST is about hitting a bunch of spots around L.A. in a single day. But I think the biggest thing they have in common is that I am immensely grateful that I was given the opportunity to write them in the first place.
Now that you’ve finished your second book, have either your writing style or your writing habits changed?
I think the book dictates the style, but I’ve definitely learned some new things about me as a writer. The first is that I like a Plan. Outlines are my jam! I’ve also discovered that if I don’t fast-draft the first version of the book, I will never finish it, so apparently deadlines are my friend too (even though I hate them in the moment!).
You work in the publishing industry. Can you shed any light on how that affects your writing?
I think it makes me much more aware of how my book/characters/themes fit into the marketplace, which is great. But it also makes me much more self critical, which is not so great. But whenever I’m feeling stressed or uninspired, I think about all the wonderful books I get to help bring into the world, and I immediately feel better…and dive back in!
Between being a literary agent and being an author, you spend a lot of time in the writing trenches. What hobbies or creative outlets do you enjoy besides writing, or do you have time for any? 😉
I really love cooking and interior design. We recently bought a house with a big kitchen, so I’ve been spending a lot of time focusing on BOTH those hobbies!
What have been your favorite books this past year? What were your favorite books as a teen?
I am absolutely obsessed with WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power. It’s part contemporary, part horror, part dystopian and I am here for it. As a teen I was drawn to things that felt off limits, which is why I often read books for adults. But I think I would have loved WILDER GIRLS, in part because it’s dealing with exactly that: the things we try to keep from girls, and the ways the world creeps in around the edges and reaches them anyway.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Lauren!
Thank you so much for having me!
Written by Lauren Spieller
Publisher’s Synopsis: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets 10 Things I Hate About You in this fun, contemporary novel about two sisters who have twenty-four hours to fulfill a pact and overcome the secret that threatens to tear them apart.
Sisters April and Jenn haven’t been close in years. Jenn’s too busy with school, the family antique shop, and her boyfriend, and April would rather play soccer and hang out with the boy next door.
But when April notices her older sister is sad about staying home for college, she decides to do something about it. The girls set off to revive a pact they made as kids: spend an epic day exploring the greatest hits of their childhood and all that Los Angeles has to offer.
Then April learns that Jenn has been keeping a secret that could rip their family—and their feuding parents—apart. With only one day to set things right, the sisters must decide if their relationship is worth saving, or if the truth will tear them apart for good.
“With pitch-perfect dialog, a beautiful and fleshed-out Los Angeles background and completely likable protagonists, this is a surefire hit. Highly recommended.” — The Children’s Book Review
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | September 3, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1534436589
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You may also enjoy: Your Destination Is on the Left
This interview—Lauren Spieller Discusses She’s the Worst —was conducted between Lauren Spieller and Denise Mealy. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Books With Secrets, Los Angeles, Siblings, Sisters, and Young Adult Fiction.