Kathie: Hi Jess! I appreciate you taking some time today to answer some questions about your upcoming novel, THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, which comes out on May 4th with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I recently had the opportunity to read it, and once again, found myself swept up in one of your stories. Can you please tell our readers about it?
Jess: Kathie, thank you so much for having me! Working on this story over this past year has brought me much needed joy, and I’m very excited it’s almost out in the world.
THE ADVENTURE IS NOW is about 12-year-old Milton P. Greene, who has been having the Most Totally, Terribly, Horribly Rotten Year of All Time. He has zero friends, his parents are divorcing, and he can’t seem to do anything right. The best part of his day is when he plays his video game Isle of Wild and gets to forget how horribly heinous everything is for a few hours.
Things take a turn for the spectacular when Milton sent to the Lone Island to stay with his ecologist uncle. On the island, he finds some new friends, a field guide full of fantastical plants and animals, and a series of clues that will lead to a hidden treasure. And so a wild and wondrous real-life adventure begins!
And something really neat—this book features an illustrated field guide complete with clues for readers to solve along with Milton.
Kathie: Although this story reads like realistic fiction, there’s a fantastical element to Lone Island that feels otherworldly at times. Can you tell us the inspiration behind this and why you chose to use it in this story?
Jess: When I was growing up, I loved two kinds of stories: fantasy and contemporary books that made me cry. Unsurprisingly, most of what I write now combines these preferences, although THE ADVENTURE IS NOW is considerably lower on the tear-jerker scale than my first two books.
The contemporary element allows me to explore real-life issues, but the fantasy element gives me the freedom to bend the rules, explore new perspectives, add an extra layer of drama and magic. Characters can be larger than life, stars can fall out of the sky, plants can have feelings.
My rule for my stories is this: Everything doesn’t have to be real. It just has to be true.
Kathie: Milton is a lovable and somewhat quirky character who I loved watching embark on a quest to find a treasure but finding something much more important than that. What did you learn from him as you wrote his story?
Jess: I love writing somewhat eccentric, slightly larger-than-life characters like Milton, and Faye from my debut, THE MIRACULOUS. Both Milton and Faye showed up in my brain pretty fully-formed—their clothing, their style of speech, their interests, it was all there. But while Faye is a secondary character, Milton is center stage.
Because I write from a close third-person perspective, Milton’s personality is infused in every aspect of the story, from the goofy wordplay to catchphrases like Mighty moles and voles! It was so much fun to write in that voice and to get to draw from a lighter, sillier side of myself.
But the story also delves into Milton’s anxiety and loneliness. Milton’s friendships with Fig, Rafi, and Gabe challenge and grow him. Out in nature, Milton is electricity-free and finally connected (whether he wants to be or not) with who he is and who he wants to be.
Anxiety, loneliness, too much screen time—these were definitely issues I dealt with this last year—I think a lot of us did! There was a lot of rottenness, but writing this story helped me find some spectaculousness along with Milton, and I hope readers will do the same.
Kathie: Relationships are at the heart of this story, both those between people and with the environment; I particularly enjoyed Milton and Fig’s growing friendship. Which relationship was the most challenging for you to write?
Jess: In earlier versions of this story, there were six kids on this adventure. I paired this down to four during edits, because I wanted more space to explore each relationship dynamic.
The most challenging relationship to get just right was between Rafi and Fig. In earlier versions, Rafi was more of a bully, and Fig had been nothing but kind to him. I decided to shift this to a more adversarial relationship, because Rafi needed to be part of the adventure, and I couldn’t let him come along if he was going to be unsafe for Fig, emotionally speaking. So I added some complexity to how Fig and Rafi met, what they were each going through, why they didn’t connect.
This is something I worked on with Dustin in QUINTESSENCE too. I like to have characters who struggle with anger and aren’t immediately likable, because in the real world these are often the kids who need the most love. But I also want to be aware of the messages I’m sending to readers about bullying.
Kathie: There are so many unique elements in this story. I think my favourite was the Beautimous Lemallby. If you woke up tomorrow morning and found one thing in your backyard, what do you hope it would be?
Jess: I have to say the Beautimous Lemallaby would probably be my choice too. If Little SmooshieFace—aka Lord Snarlsy—were in my backyard, I would invite him to sit on my shoulder and I would feed him a steady supply of SunBurst Blossoms. Although our 18-year-old cat Soul Pie would be very jealous.
I got to invent a whole bunch of plants and animals for this story. Writing the field guide in Dr. Ada Paradis’s voice—another quirky (although off-stage) character—was so much fun and seeing it brought to life with Cassie Gonzales’s art work was amazing. I was able to include quite a bit of real biology and ecology in as well, and a major part of the plot deals with environmental protection and the power of nature.
Kathie: What’s something important for readers to know about this story?
Jess: At this point in my authorhood journey, I’ve worked on both serious and light-hearted projects, and what I’ve found is that the line isn’t as clear as readers might think. Funny books can have a great deal of heart and truth in them. Serious books can make you laugh out loud.
Some reviewers of THE ADVENTURE IS NOW have focused on the humorous side of the story, like The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books who recently called it a “Roald Dahl-esque delight.” Some have focused on the emotional aspects, like Publishers Weekly who said it “renders compassionate characters…placing an emphasis on honesty and emotional directness that makes for an affirming adventure.” I would like to think it has both humor and heart.
Kathie: Are you working on another project, and where can our readers find out more about you and your writing?
Jess: I’m always writing something new! I’ve been working on a story about a surfer girl who washes up on an island that’s not on any maps and meets a boy who’s been sending messages in bottles for the past hundred years. It’s an upper middle-grade magical-historical-timey-wimey contemporary (that’s a thing, right?) that delves into environmental issues, growing up, and living forever. For now, it’s called EVERLASTING ISLAND, and I’m excited to share it sometime in the future.
Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Jess. I loved learning more about THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, and I wish you all the best with its launch.
Jess: Thank you so much for having me on MG Book Village and for all you do to support authors! And, readers, please stop by my website www.jessredman.com because I have some exciting launch events coming up including free school visits, a preorder campaign, and lots of resources like teaching guides and book trailers.
Jess Redman is a therapist and author of books for young readers with FSG/Macmillan. Her first book, The Miraculous, was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2019, an Amazon Best Book of 2019, and was called “layered, engaging, and emotionally true” in a Kirkus starred review. Her second book, Quintessence, was an NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book. Her third book, The Adventure Is Now, is scheduled for publication on May 4, 2021, and has been described by BCCB as “a Roald Dahl-esque delight.” Redman currently lives in Florida with her husband, two young children, an old cat named SoulPie, and a fish named Annie. Visit her at www.jessredman.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @Jess__Red.