MANCHESTER, N.H., April 21, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- One day eleven years ago, Jo Knowles-the Young Adult novelist who also teaches in Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program-was in the front passenger seat of a car driven by her husband. Their four-year-old son in a car seat in the back. When another car came dangerously close to theirs, Knowles's husband gave a warning honk. The other driver, as he veered away, answered with a middle-finger salute.
Knowles was both surprised and angry. "Who does that?" she demanded.
As we all know, a lot of people do that. Her husband urged her to forget about it, to let it go. "But I just couldn't," Knowles said, remembering that day. "The whole incident made me start thinking about how much power we give to that gesture in different ways."
The more she brooded on it, the more she thought the gesture was worth some sort of book-length exploration. Eventually Knowles said as much to her husband. "He's a supportive guy, so he was like, 'Okay,'" Knowles said. "But I could tell he thought I wasn't serious, which probably made me want to do it more."
But in fact other books were written first, a roll-call of popular, award-winning novels: "Lessons From a Dead Girl" (Candlewick, 2007), "Jumping Off Swings" (Candlewick, 2009), "Pearl" (Holt, 2011), "See You at Harry's" (Candlewick, 2012), and "Living With Jackie Chan" (Candlewick, 2013).
"Acutely aware of the challenges teenagers must face," wrote The New York Times in 2012, "Jo Knowles, has, in the past six years, written several acclaimed young adult novels tackling some of the more grueling hurdles, including teen pregnancy and abuse."
Indeed the YA audience is not conceived to be so tender as it once was, but hmm—a whole YA book about a reviled anti-social gesture?
"It wasn't so much that I was afraid of the theme, but that in those early days I didn't really know what the book was," Knowles said. "I thought maybe it would be a collection of short stories, which is how it started out. But then, as the characters in each story became more complex and real to me, they started to invade each others' chapters."
At that point the structure of the book became a puzzle Knowles had to solve, one that she worked on between her more orthodox novels. "Then, after I sold 'See You at Harry's, I got a two-book deal with my publisher, one for a book unwritten," she said. "I saw it as a chance to finish this book and show it to my editor, since I didn't think I could really sell it on a pitch."
That editor, when she saw the manuscript for "Read Between the Lines," liked it very much, and the book was published by the Candlewick Press on March 10 as not so much a collection of stories as a sequence of interlinked episodes, each involving that gesture in some way, all joined by a shared cast of characters and a common theme—that of the distance between the people these characters are perceived to be and who they really are. In various ways, for good or for ill, the power of the gesture serves to illuminate that gap.
And of course the wholesale question of identity is one of those tough hurdles all teenagers must face: the bullying victim, the cheerleader, the guy behind the fast food counter, and so on. "The book proceeds, each new character entering, with his/her realities, dreams and secrets becoming another masterfully woven thread," wrote Kirkus Reviews in its starred review of "Read Between the Lines."
"Each [episode] can be read and enjoyed in isolation," said BookPage, "but readers will enjoy piecing together the stories and the accompanying relationships."
And again from Kirkus: "With emotional explorations and dialogue so authentic, one might think Knowles isn't creating but channeling the adolescent mind. A fascinating study of misperceptions, consequences and the teen condition."
No doubt layers of misperceptions were involved in a trivial traffic incident that involved the adults in the Knowles family eleven years ago. But the consequences of something a writer couldn't dismiss now include these tough new narrative truths about the teenage experience. And that was what Knowles was after all along.
"My friend [and children's author] Jennifer Richard Jacobson gave me the best piece of advice, which is this," said Knowles in an interview with Adventures in YA Publishing. "When you think you're done, ask yourself: Is it true yet? And that has guided me, given me the push to figure out what the truth is in the first place. Asking the question allows me to go deeper and be brave. It's hard and scary, but in order to write something truly satisfying, you've got to discover the true reason you wanted to tell it in the first place."
Photos accompanying this release are available at: