Anne: Hello, Meera! How lovely of you to stop by MG Book Village today to chat about your debut novel, The View from the Very Best House in Town. It hit shelves earlier this year, and I loved it. Would you please give readers a super-brief summary of the story?
Meera: Sure! This story has been described as part thriller, part friendship story and part real estate listing.
Anne: Hahaha. Oh, sorry to interrupt. Please go on!
Meera: It’s about Asha and Sam, two autistic seventh graders who’ve been friends for so long that they take friendship for granted, just as Asha takes for granted that Donnybrooke, the mansion that sits on the highest hill in town, is the very best there is. But when Sam is accepted to the snobbish Castleton Academy, he starts to pull away from Asha. Even worse, Sam starts spending his free time with Prestyn, Asha’s nemesis, who lives at Donnybrooke. Ever since a housewarming party gone wrong, Prestyn has forbidden Asha from setting foot inside.
Who is Asha without Sam? And who will she be when it becomes clear that Prestyn’s interest in Sam might not be so friendly?
Anne: That’s great. Your chapters alternate between three characters’ points-of-view (POV): Asha, Sam, and… the house. The house! Or I should say mansion. Ha! (The mansion would prefer that I call it that.) My question is: how did you come up with the idea of writing chapters from a mansion’s POV?
Meera: The process of creative writing can bring things out from your subconscious that you didn’t even know were there. I certainly didn’t realize I had a pompous mansion (Donnybrooke thanks you for using the correct terminology) lurking in my head until I started this book. Donnybrooke’s voice came to me in bed one night, and it amused me so much I decided to try to write it down. It was so much fun, the process snowballed from there. The more I wrote, the more I realized Donnybrooke wasn’t just for humor; it allowed me to develop characters and explore themes in a way I simply couldn’t through a human POV. So it stuck!
Anne: Donnybrooke is quite full of itself, and I enjoyed the levity it brought to the story. How hard was it to craft that voice?
Meera: It was surprisingly easy to craft at least a rough version of the voice—I had a far easier time with it than any of my human characters. When I queried, Donnybrooke’s voice was in first person, but it was a little inconsistent and occasionally too over-the-top. (Donnybrooke might dispute that it’s ever possible to be too over-the-top, but most publishing professionals would disagree.) After I signed with my agent, Molly Ker Hawn, she suggested I try drafting Donnybrooke in the third person, which was just what was needed to smooth it out, yet still keep the humor and everything else that made me want to write from its perspective in the first place.
Also, I had originally conceived of Donnybrooke as simply a narrator but realized as I went along that it was a character in need of its own arc. So that took some stepping back. I knew where I wanted Donnybrooke to be at the end, and I had to backtrack to figure out its journey to get there.
Anne: This is a friendship story—and sometimes a lack-of-friendship story. The relationships ring true, and some scenes broke my heart. I wondered how much of the story reflected your own life. When you were in middle school, did you have to figure out how to deal with mean girls or bullies? What is autobiographical and what is purely fictional?
Meera: While the specifics of the story are fictional, the emotions are certainly ones that I’ve experienced time and again as a kid—and as adult! Friendships can be so complicated. While I’ve been lucky to have some lifelong friends, even my closest friendships have had ebbs and flows to them. I’ve also had friendships fade in ways that have felt bewildering and sad. When I was younger, I remember so clearly feeling that certain friends had moved on to a cooler stage of their lives, and somehow I had missed the memo. I’ve also been in situations where I’ve had to acknowledge that my friend wasn’t treating me well and I needed to respect myself enough to either move on or reset our relationship. Hard stuff! I tried to bring the truth of my experiences to this book.
Also, when I was in school, I was teased for the various things that set me apart from my peers, and I longed to change those things about myself, even as I knew what my peers were saying was wrong. I am also embarrassed to say, when I was a kid, sometimes I was on the wrong side of those interactions. While I wasn’t the instigator, I did have friends in middle school who were unkind to more vulnerable peers, and I didn’t necessarily speak up when I should have. There are characters in the book who are bystanders and who, like me, have to make a choice on whether to do better.
Anne: It’s really good of you to say this. I suspect that at one time or another, all of us might be guilty of not speaking up when we should have.
Meera: What surprised me as an adult—and part of what motivated me to write this book—is that these dynamics don’t necessarily end in middle school. They just become more subtle. And sometimes, maybe due to their own anxiety, grownups send the message to their kids that they should value social status and exclusivity over kindness and inclusivity. All of the parents in the book want their kids to be happy. But not all of them make the best choices.
Anne: Right. Some of the parents are real problems in the story. But towards the end, a positive moment comes when Asha recalls her mom saying that “people have all sorts of reasons for doing things, and usually it’s more about them than you.” (When I was in middle school, my dad taught me the same.) When you started writing, did you set out to incorporate this truth into the story, or did it emerge along the way?
Meera: I don’t ever set out to write a particular lesson in a story. That said, I have a certain worldview and it inevitably comes through on the page. Without giving away any spoilers, I can say that that sentence in particular takes place in a scene that was emotional for me to write. I was just trying to be as honest as I could, and that’s what emerged.
I’m glad to know your dad taught you the same! It’s a lesson I still have to remind myself of sometimes.
Anne: Will you be writing more novels for middle grade readers? What are you working on now?
Meera: Yes! I am currently working on a middle grade fantasy with snow. A lot of snow.
Anne: Brrrrr! Finally, please tell readers where they can go to learn more about you and your work?
Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such a great story for middle grade readers!
Meera: Thank you for having me! MG Book Village is such a great resource and I’m so happy we’ve had the chance to chat.
Meera Trehan grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs where she read as much as she could, memorized poems, and ate enough cookies to earn the nickname “Monster” after the Cookie Monster. After attending the University of Virginia and Stanford Law School, she practiced public interest law for over a decade before turning to writing for children. Her debut, THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN, released from Walker US/Candlewick in February 2022 and has been named a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection and an Amazon Editor’s Pick.
Anne (A.B.) Westrick is today’s MG Book Village interviewer. She’s the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about Anne on the MG Book Village “About” page and at her website, https://abwestrick.com/