Kathie: Hi Shari, and a big welcome to MG Book Village! I’m so happy to hear you have another book coming our way. Can you tell us about GAME FACE, which is coming out with Groundwood Books on September 5th?
Shari: Thank you so much, Kathie! I love MG Book Village, and I’m so happy to be here! GAME FACE is a novel in verse about thirteen-year-old Jonah. Jonah’s got big dreams, but he’s also got a secret he keeps from everyone but his best friend. The secret? Jonah worries. And his worst worry is that he’s destined to have his life controlled by anxiety, just like his dad does. To prove to the world—and himself—that he’s not like his dad, Jonah is determined to succeed in a role that requires significant chill: goalie for his hockey team.
Kathie: What about the idea for this story compelled you to write it?
Shari: After many years as a “hockey mom” and decades as a hockey fan, I wasn’t surprised to find a hockey story brewing. I was excited to tell a story that included this sport I love, but it wasn’t until I got to know Jonah and realized the impact anxiety had on him that I felt compelled to write GAME FACE. I’ve got so much compassion for that kid—his dreams, his sorrows, his struggles—and I’ve also got some seriously strong feelings about the stigma surrounding mental health and the huge potential for harm that carries. So really, how could I not tell Jonah’s story?
Kathie: Can you tell us a bit about Jonah, and what five words would you use to describe him best?
Shari: In many ways, Jonah is a typical eighth-grade kid, with big-league hockey dreams, a best friend, and weekends full of homework, video games, and team practices. But there was a significant loss in his past that has an ongoing impact on both Jonah and his dad. And he’s plagued with worries that he’s gradually realizing are a sign of something bigger—something that might be too big to handle on his own.
Five words for Jonah: determined, anxious, loyal, hopeful, conflicted.
Kathie: I love that you address the topic of anxiety and how it affects Jonah both on and off the ice. Can you tell us a bit more about that and what kind of research you did for this book?
Shari: One thing about having anxiety is that you don’t get to decide when it’s going to make an appearance. So yes, Jonah’s anxiety affects him both on and off the ice. He knows being a goalie forces him into high-pressure situations that can make his anxiety worse, but it’s those exact situations that he believes he must master to prove to himself that he’s “okay.”
Jonah’s anxiety came out of my own experience, although Jonah’s anxiety is more severe. As a starting point, I drew from my experience and from the stories others shared with me. Then I was off to the library, of course! I researched anxiety in children and teens, and I read personal stories of mental illness in competitive athletes. I also connected with a school counsellor and a physician. And then I put myself in Jonah’s shoes (skates?) and let him experience anxiety in his own unique way, trusting that the background research I’d done would ensure Jonah’s experience felt authentic to others with anxiety, even if the situation and the particular symptoms/effects were different for them.
Kathie: I love the recent conversation I heard on Twitter about “sports books” not being just for kids who love sports. What are your thoughts about this, and what sort of reader did you have in mind when you wrote this book?
Shari: Definitely not just for kids who love sports! Just as sports aren’t only about the actual sport or game (they’re also about things such as how we work together, how we complement one another, and how we support one another, and they’re about things such as motivation, goals, commitment, dreams, and competition, and how all that plays out differently in different people), sports books are also about so much more. GAME FACE is a hockey story, yes, but it’s also a story of a boy and his dad, a story of a friendship strained to the breaking point, a story of the impact of mental illness on families and individuals, a school story, an Oma-loves-you story, a make-a-new-friend story, a you’ll-be-okay story.
What sort of reader did I have in mind? Anyone who loves realistic fiction. Anyone who loves novels in verse. Anyone who loves upper-middle-grade stories with heart.
Kathie: Let’s talk about the cover! Who designed it, and what struck you most when you first saw it?
Shari: The cover artist is the wonderfully talented Julien Castanié, and I have to say, seeing my Jonah there, perfectly captured by Julien, was amazing! It was such a cool process, seeing this character move from my imagination into story and poems and pages, and then into something visual through Julien’s art.
Kathie: OK, let’s show readers what it looks like!!
Kathie: I love the way the reader is drawn to Jonah’s face. Can you share one element of significance that you love?
Shari: I love the way it captures so much of Jonah’s heart and mind. When I look at it, I feel like I catch a glimpse of Jonah’s big dreams, but then I blink, and I feel the weight of anxiety on him, the alone-in-the-darkness feeling that comes from all he’s dealing with.
Kathie: What else would you like readers to know about this story?
Shari: There are some delicious foods in the story that I absolutely had to test out in my kitchen (all in the name of research, of course! haha). Also, one fun fact is that I wrote this book during the 2018-2019 school year, when I was a “mentor” for a grade 4/5 class in the #KidsNeedMentors program. I gave the class regular updates on my progress, and in turn, they gave me a wonderful supply of enthusiasm and motivation.
Kathie: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Shari: I love connecting with other MG lit fans! They can visit my website for info (www.sharigreen.com) or connect with me on social media. (I’m mostly on Instagram @shari_green and twitter @sharigreen.)
Kathie: Thanks so much for letting us be part of your cover reveal today, Shari, and I anxiously await the opportunity to read it!
Shari: Thank you so much, Kathie! Thanks for the great questions, and huge thanks to you and everyone at MG Book Village for sharing my excitement about GAME FACE!
Shari Green is an award-winning author of novels in verse, including Missing Mike, Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, and Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles. Her books have been included on international “best of” lists and nominated for multiple provincial and state readers’-choice programs. When she’s not writing or reading, Shari can often be found wandering the beaches or forest trails near her home. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, BC, on the traditional territory of the Laich-Kwil-Tach people. Visit her online at www.sharigreen.com.