Kathie: Hi Ali, and thank you so much for taking some time to talk with me today about your upcoming novel, THE MENDING SUMMER (releases May 25th with HarperCollins). Can you give our readers a summary of it, please?
Ali: Of course! Thank you very much for having me. The Mending Summer is about twelve-year-old Georgia Collins, who is having a really rough summer. She longs to be at Camp Pine Valley, where she usually spends summers, but money is tight while her mother is going back to school to earn her college degree. And home is no longer the happy place it once was, because Georgia’s beloved father is struggling with alcoholism, which has changed him beyond recognition.
So Georgia is nervous but also a bit relieved when she is sent to stay with a distant relative, her great aunt Marigold, in her old, rambling house in the country. As Georgia slowly gets used to life with her prickly aunt, she finds a new friend out in the woods, and the two are enthralled to discover a magical lake that seems to have the power to grant wishes. At first, Georgia hopes she can use this magic to help heal her family, but she comes to learn that the magic has limits and rules. Not only that, but it has a dark side, too. When things with her father take a turn for the worse, a new boy appears at the lake, and the magic begins to spin out of control. Georgia must find a way to heal her broken heart, or let the magic sweep her away, leaving her forever changed.
Kathie: This story is a blend of realistic fiction with a magical island. Can you tell us why you chose to tell the story this way?
Ali: I always try to balance weighty, important themes with mystery and adventure in my books. I don’t want the “issue” of the book to edge out the sense of wonder that all children have about the world. Wounded hearts can feel joy, too, as Georgia does when she first experiences the lake’s magic. So that was part of it.
I also wanted to play with the idea of wish fulfillment fantasies. We are all familiar with them, and it can be tempting to lose ourselves in wishing we could control things we ultimately can’t. Someone else’s addiction is one of those things. So at some point, we have to nudge ourselves on past wishing we could fix the addiction (or blaming ourselves for not being able to) and start to concentrate on what we can do. Which is be kind to ourselves, build a support system, and restructure our identity so that it doesn’t revolve around the addicted person. In that way, we protect our heart without hardening it. The idea of a magical lake and island is so tempting to Georgia (and exciting for the reader!), but ultimately it becomes a trap that she must find the strength to free herself from so she can move on.
Kathie: There are some meaningful relationships in your book, but one of the most significant is Georgia’s relationship with her dad who becomes The Shadow Man to her when he’s drinking. I love how she created two people to deal with her conflicting feelings about him. Did you find this common in young people who have a parent dealing with an addiction in your research?
Ali: I did find this to be a common motif in accounts by children of alcoholics, and it’s a dynamic that I recognize from my own experience, too. The idea that my father was a completely different person when he drank was one that actually really helped me to process my sense of loss, anger, and betrayal. Georgia comes to this idea at a much younger age than I did, but it’s not until the end of the book that she recognizes that, in separating Daddy from the Shadow Man, she is able to reclaim Daddy from his alter-ego and preserve in her heart the father she knows and loves.
Kathie: I’m a fan of quiet yet supportive adult characters like Hank. From which character did you feel you learned the most?
Ali: Me too! I find that I can’t write a story without a crotchety, elderly character who has some wise words to share with my protagonist. Maybe this has something to do with how much I cherish the memory of my grandparents. But Aunt Marigold really stands out to me among the characters I’ve created. I absolutely loved writing her and getting to peel back her story layer by layer. Often, I have characters’ backstories all laid out by the time I write a book, but hers kept changing and morphing as I got to know her. She is a woman of great strength and profound regret, with kindness hiding behind the façade she has hardened against the world. I wish I had known someone like her when I was Georgia’s age. I learned so much from writing her, and I can’t imagine how much I would have learned from knowing her!
Kathie: What’s one takeaway you hope young readers have from this story?
Ali: Hope is at the heart of all my stories, and it is always the paramount thing I want readers to take away. But with this book in particular, I also want readers whose families are impacted by addiction to feel less alone. I remember feeling isolated and ashamed, and like I was navigating a maze by myself—one that I wasn’t at all sure even had an exit. I want kids to know that there is joy and healing and happiness waiting for them, if they give themselves permission to care for their own hearts.
Kathie: If you could make one wish on the island, what would it be?
Ali: Well, as I mentioned, the lake’s magic is limited in some important ways, so I couldn’t ask for world peace or anything noble like that! But I would love to go back and relive some old memories, to see the faces of my grandparents again. To crawl into their laps to have them read me a story. That would be really, really wonderful.
Kathie: Do you have another project on which you’re working right now?
Ali: Always! I’m working on another middle grade book, which will be out next year, entitled YONDER. It’s about a boy named Danny who is growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains during World War II. When his best friend, Jack, goes missing, Danny is determined to find out what happened to him. His only clue is a single word carved in a tree: Yonder. It’s the name of a magical town Jack once spoke of—a town of unimaginable beauty where flocks of rainbow birds cover the sky, and where no one ever quarrels. But in trying to solve this mystery, Danny finds himself with new questions to answer. Questions about courage and war, about injustice abroad and in his own mountain town, and about his place in all of it. It’s a book I have been working on for many years in one way or another, really the book of my heart. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world.
Kathie: Where can readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Kathie: Thanks so much for answering my questions today, Ali, and I wish you all the best with the book’s release.
Ali: Thank YOU, Kathie!
Ali Standish grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Pomona College before spending several years as an educator in the Washington, D.C. public school system. She has an MFA in children’s writing from Hollins University and an MPhil in Children’s Literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives with her Finnish husband, son, and rescue dogs in a state of perpetual chaos in Raleigh, NC.