We asked author Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe) for a guest post today and she delivered! Not only did she provide an excellent dream cast for an adaptation of her upcoming novel, Breathless, but she also gave us an inside look at how personal Breathless is to her – and how sometimes art seems to imitate life.
I almost always write my books with actors in mind for the characters. Particularly when the book is so personal—as Breathless is—it helps give me enough objectivity to write the character. Hopefully we will see Breathless on the big screen. If so, my dream is to cast the actors I had in mind while writing the book—assuming, of course, I’d have an unlimited budget and ultimate power to make those decisions!
For Claude Henry, I envision the amazing Sophia Lillis (I Am Not Okay With This). To me, she is Claude— freckles, short red hair, fire, emotional depth, attitude, and all. For the dreamy and charismatic Jeremiah Crew (who was inspired by my own dreamy and charismatic husband), I picture the magnetic Rudy Pankow (Outer Banks) or multi-talented Luke Eisner (Tall Girl).
For Claude’s no-nonsense best friend, Saz, I imagine someone like Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Never Have I Ever). For Claude’s mom, Lauren, I see Alicia Silverstone or Drew Barrymore.
For her dad, Neil, I picture Michael Sheen. For Wyatt Jones, her hometown crush, Reece King or Chance Perdomo (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).
And as for the young people she befriends on the island—Sofia Hasmik (All the Bright Places) as Wednesday, Ross Lynch (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) as Grady, and an older Keith L. Williams (Good Boys) as Emory. And as Jared I see the person who inspired the character—a real-life reader and friend named Jared whom I wrote into the story. 🙂
At the end of my senior year of high school, days after I turned eighteen, my dad told me that he and my mom were splitting up. All my life, it had been the three of us—Mom, Dad, me. My parents were everything. And suddenly, my world turned upside down.
Years later, I visited an island off the coast of Georgia to write this book and met my now husband. He is that barefoot boy of nature who inspired Jeremiah Crew. The one who taught me how to find shark teeth. The adventures in the book are adventures my husband and I had while we were falling in love.
So Breathless is personal both to the teenage Jennifer and the adult Jennifer in ways I never saw coming when I first began working on the story of a girl named Claude whose parents separate days after her high school graduation.
Here’s a little breakdown of just some of the ways in which it’s personal…
Then (teen Jennifer):
- I grew up in a small Midwestern town with a gay best friend. We constantly dreamed of leaving that town and going out into the world together in pursuit of our big dreams.
- My parents and I moved there from somewhere else when I was ten.
- Like Claude, I’m an only child.
- The Joy Ann Cake Shop was the bakery in our town. Their specialty was thumbprint cookies. J
- A week before my high school graduation, my dad came into my room to tell me that he and my mom were splitting up. He also asked me not to tell anyone about the impending separation, not even my best friend.
- Five days after graduation, my mom and I moved away from my hometown, my best friend, all my friends, the boy I liked, my dad, my dog, and my home. Whereas Claude and her mom go to a remote GA island for the summer, my mom and I went to the remote NC mountains.
- That was the summer I had sex for the first time.
- It was also the summer I really started writing seriously and began finding my voice. (Although instead of a novel, it was a play about Zelda Fitzgerald.)
Now (adult Jennifer):
- I traveled to Cumberland Island—one of the islands that inspired the setting for the book—and met my husband, Justin Conway. The real-life Jeremiah Crew. (I had named the character long before I met my husband.) The only notable difference—apart from being older than Claude and Miah— is that there was no Wednesday, he didn’t pull me from the water after I’d swum out too far, and we’ve never actually argued.
- I wrote Jeremiah Crew before I even knew my husband, but in addition to having the same initials, there are so many eerie similarities, almost as if I conjured him—walking barefoot all over the island, similar backstory in terms of family troubles and having to raise his siblings, becoming sober, having to grow up too fast and be responsible at a young age.
- Every adventure we have in the book (except for the bike riding one) is an adventure my husband and I had while we were falling in love. The fireflies guiding our way through the dark. Wandering the grounds of the ruins at night. Long beach walks under a blood moon. Waiting for the turtles to appear. Sinking into the pluff mud (me in my sundress and rain boots, him in his Ranger Panties, the same shorts Jeremiah wears in the book). Getting trapped in a basement with the ghost of a woman who loves jewelry. All the things we shared with each other when no one else was listening.
- We agreed from the first day we met to always, always share everything about ourselves, just like Claude and Miah do.
- He taught me how to hunt for shark teeth by making circles in the sand.
- He carried me through the creek when the tide came in and the water was too high.
- There is an inn on Cumberland and ruins on Cumberland, but a lot of the setting—including the Geechee culture— is also inspired by Sapelo Island, where we’ve spent some time as well.
- Jared is a real person—a devoted reader of All the Bright Places who works at the inn on Cumberland Island.
- Wednesday is a reader who won an auction to appear as a character in the book.
- Claude’s relationship with her mom is very similar to mine with my mom. All my life we’ve always been Penny and Jennifer, Jennifer and Penny. The Niven women.
- Much of the family history of the Blackwoods comes from my own Niven family history.
- Now my husband and I live part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in coastal Georgia, just fifteen minutes from Cumberland Island by boat. We still go over and hunt for treasure and wade through the pluff mud and walk the beach under blood moons whenever we can. <3
By Jennifer Niven
400 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9781524701963 | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Before: With graduation on the horizon, budding writer Claudine Henry is making plans: college in the fall, become a famous author, and maybe–finally–have sex. She doesn’t even need to be in love. Then her dad drops a bombshell: he’s leaving Claude’s mother. Suddenly, Claude’s entire world feels like a lie, and her future anything but under control.
After: Claude’s mom whisks them away to the last place Claude could imagine nursing a broken heart: a remote, mosquito-infested island off the coast of Georgia. But then Jeremiah Crew happens. Miah is a local trail guide with a passion for photography–and a past he doesn’t like to talk about. He’s brash and enigmatic, and even more infuriatingly, he’s the only one who seems to see Claude for who she wants to be. So when Claude decides to sleep with Miah, she tells herself it’s just sex, nothing more. There’s not enough time to fall in love, especially if it means putting her already broken heart at risk.