Dream Casting “Breathless:” A Guest Post from Jennifer Niven

We asked author Jennifer Niven (All the Bright PlacesHolding 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.

Dream Cast

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. 🙂

Fun Facts

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

Breathless
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.

Jennifer Niven: website | twitter | instagram

Putting the YA in FRIYAY: Heather Smith’s Guide to St. John’s, Newfoundland

A pandemic is no time to travel but we’re always dreaming about the next place we’d love to visit when things are safe again. Thanks to Heather Smith, St. John’s, Newfoundland is now high up on our list – it’s the setting for her latest YA novel, Barry Squires, Full Tilt.

Keep scrolling for Heather’s top five reasons to visit St. John’s!

Heather and her husband outside of Fred’s

1. The People

Get off the plane at the St. John’s International Airport and you might bump into a stranger who’ll treat you like a long-lost friend. “How was your flight, my duck? Bit bumpy at the end there, wasn’t it? We got some wicked wind here, I tells ya. Where are ya staying to anyway? The Newfoundland Hotel? Jeez b’y, that’ll cost you a pretty penny. Why don’t you stay with me? Uncle Dwight’s not in the basement anymore, God rest his soul. Don’t worry, I’ve changed the sheets. Purex was only $4.99 at Pipers this week. I got Aunt Bev a bottle too. She doesn’t get out as much as she used to. Not since the accident.”

Newfoundlanders are a hospitable bunch. Chatty too. Over the course of your stay, you’ll be called duck, love, darlin’, hon, trout, and the ubiquitous ‘buddy’ or ‘missus’. Ask a question and you’ll get a life story. Accept a cup of tea and you’ll get a turkey dinner, a tall tale, and a pair of Nan’s handknitted socks. Don’t worry, your confusion over whether you’re a houseguest or a hostage is completely normal. Some would argue it’s part of the experience.

Of course, Newfoundlanders aren’t perfect. You’re sure to meet a hard ticket who’ll call you something unsavoury, but look on the bright side – at least you can return home with a funny story about the dude in Dildo who said you had a face on ya like a boiled boot.

2. The Food

There are a lot of traditional foods in Newfoundland and Labrador and there are many fine restaurants in and around the St. John’s area that present them in new and interesting ways. You wouldn’t believe what some of these places can do with a slice of bologna! Chinched on Bate’s Hill even make their own! They also do a mean charcuterie board that features house made meats, local cheeses, and homemade mustards and pickles. Delicious! Other notable restaurants include Mallard Cottage and Hungry Heart Café. There’s also Chafe’s Landing which just happens to be located in Petty Harbour, the birthplace of Alan Doyle! (If you’re lucky you might get held hostage by some of his kin!)

3. The Landscape

As soon as the plane emerges from the fog you will see the most rugged beauty you’ve ever seen in your whole entire life. (No exaggeration, Newfoundlanders never stretch the truth.) By the way, did I mention that you might meet Gordon Pinsent? He hands out handknitted socks to newcomers at the airport. Nice guy. I shared a Chinched bologna sandwich with him on Signal Hill once. What’s Signal Hill you ask? Read on, my duck!

Newfoundland in the summer

4. The Touristy Stuff

Downtown St. John’s:

The Duke of Duckworth (Get some beer!)
The Ship Inn (Get some more beer!)
Fred’s Records (Get some music!)
Caine’s Deli (Get a cold plate!)
The Golden Tulip (Get some jewellery!)
Nonia (Get some handknitted socks!)

Other places of note:

Signal Hill National Historic Site (Home of Cabot Tower)
The Narrows (the passage from St. John’s Harbour to the Atlantic – stunning views!)
Cape Spear (North America’s most easterly point)
The Rooms (Fabulous museum and art gallery)
Any hike along the East Coast Trail (more spectacular views!)

5. The Weather (Bahahahahahhahaha!)

Don’t worry, it won’t all be RDF*. If you go in the summer, you’ll be sure to get some fine days – enjoy them while you can!

*Rain, drizzle, and fog.


Now that you know what to expect in Newfoundland, make sure you pick up Barry Squires, Full Tilt when it comes out on September 22!

Barry Squires, Full Tilt
By Heather T. Smith
232 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735267466 | Penguin Teen Canada
It’s 1995. When the Full Tilt Dancers give an inspiring performance at the opening of the new bingo hall, twelve-year-old Finbar (Barry) Squires wants desperately to join the troupe. Led by Father O’Flaherty, the Full Tilt Irish Step Dancers are the most sought-after act in St. John’s, Newfoundland (closely followed by popular bagpiper, Alfie Bragg and his Agony Bag). Having watched Riverdance twice, Barry figures he’ll nail the audition. And good thing too — it’d be nice to be known for something other than the port wine stain on his cheek. With questionable talent and an unpredictable temper, Barry’s journey to stardom is jeopardized by his parents’ refusal to take his dreams seriously. Thankfully, Barry has the support of a lively cast of characters: his ever-present grandmother, Nanny Squires; his adorable baby brother, Gord; an old British rocker named Uneven Steven; a group of geriatrics from the One Step Closer to God Nursing Home; and Saibal, a friend with whom Barry gets up to no good.

Other books by Heather:

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe
By Heather T. Smith
232 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780735267466 | Penguin Teen Canada
It’s Newfoundland, 1986. Fourteen-year-old Bun O’Keefe has lived a solitary life in an unsafe, unsanitary house. Her mother is a compulsive hoarder, and Bun has had little contact with the outside world. What she’s learned about life comes from the random books and old VHS tapes that she finds in the boxes and bags her mother brings home. Bun and her mother rarely talk, so when Bun’s mother tells Bun to leave one day, she does. Hitchhiking out of town, Bun ends up on the streets of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Fortunately, the first person she meets is Busker Boy, a street musician who senses her naivety and takes her in. Together they live in a house with an eclectic cast of characters: Chef, a hotel dishwasher with culinary dreams; Cher, a drag queen with a tragic past; Big Eyes, a Catholic school girl desperately trying to reinvent herself; and The Landlord, a man who Bun is told to avoid at all cost. Through her experiences with her new roommates, and their sometimes tragic revelations, Bun learns that the world extends beyond the walls of her mother’s house and discovers the joy of being part of a new family — a family of friends who care.

Chicken Girl
By Heather T. Smith
232 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780735267466 | Penguin Teen Canada
Poppy used to be an optimist. But after a photo of her dressed as Rosie the Riveter is mocked online, she’s having trouble seeing the good in the world. As a result, Poppy trades her beloved vintage clothes for a feathered chicken costume and accepts a job as an anonymous sign waver outside a restaurant. There, Poppy meets six-year-old girl Miracle, who helps Poppy see beyond her own pain, opening her eyes to the people around her: Cam, her twin brother, who is adjusting to life as an openly gay teen; Buck, a charming photographer with a cute British accent and a not-so-cute mean-streak; and Lewis a teen caring for an ailing parent, while struggling to reach the final stages of his gender transition. As the summer unfolds, Poppy stops glorifying the past and starts focusing on the present. But just as she comes to terms with the fact that there is good and bad in everyone, she is tested by a deep betrayal.

Heather Smith: website | twitter | instagram

Author Guest Post: Mental Space by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

We’re bringing you a special treat today: a guest post from Me and Banksy author, Tanya Lloyd Kyi! Check out Tanya’s previous posts on Reading with Rendz and The Contented Reader for more insight into her writing process and be sure to keep an eye on her own blog for the final installment tomorrow.


To write a novel, you need two types of time. Time to sit in front of the keyboard, tapping away. And time to let your mind wander, puzzling over characters and playing with plot twists. The problem with the latter is that it looks suspiciously like doing nothing. And if you live, like I do, in a house with a husband and two teenagers, you’re not allowed to do nothing for long.

Can you drive me to the gym? Can these extra friends stay for dinner? And have you seen my black socks? No, not those black socks, the other ones.

I wrote Me and Banksy on a very tight deadline. I loved my characters — passionate and artistic Dominica, fiery Saanvi, and the über-smart but highly unmotivated Holden. But every day I needed to churn out new pages. I desperately needed time to plan and plot. 

Can you sign these field trip forms? Can you proofread my essay? Where did I put my hat? No, not that hat, the other one.

The answer, I found, was bedtime. Not my kids’ bedtimes, because they stay up later than me these days. No, it was my own bedtime. Instead of picking up a book or plugging in an audiobook like usual, I would turn out the light, close my eyes, and imagine myself in Dominica’s world. More often than not, the glimmer of an idea would appear. Sometimes, I’d scribble it down during breakfast.

Can you book me a haircut? Is this a pimple or a wart? Where did I put my backpack? Yes, of course that one.

I recently read a tweet about making use of unclaimed time. The minutes while waiting for the noodles to boil. I’m going to take that advice to heart this year, and see what new ideas appear, and what new stories I can write. I might just find a few more glimmers, tucked between the socks, the hats, and the backpacks.


Me and Banksy is available now! Make sure you’re following Tanya on social media!

TANYA LLOYD KYI: website | twitter

Guest Post: Women’s History Month

Speak a Word for FreedomJanet Willen and Marjorie Gann: March is Women’s History Month in the U.S., a time to honor women who had the courage to speak up when people in power wanted to keep them quiet. We’re celebrating by showcasing Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery, which tells the stories of fourteen of these women, abolitionists past and present.

Nineteenth-century Englishwoman Elizabeth Heyrick felt she had no choice but to omit her name from her pamphlet Immediate, not Gradual Abolition, urging a quick end to slavery. In 1824 neither men nor women wanted to hear what a woman had to say on the topic. That didn’t stop her.

When U.S. President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, his first words were, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” The book was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It opened people’s eyes to slavery’s horrors, turned the North against the South and paved the way for the American Civil War.

Nina Smith, one of today’s heroes, heads an organization that works to free young children enslaved in rug factories in Afghanistan, India and Nepal. Some of the kids are forced to sleep near looms and work seventeen-hour days. When Smith started her work, she thought everyone would agree that slavery was wrong, but she found resistance in surprising places.


These women’s stories and more are highlighted in Speak a Word for Freedom. The book is a critical success:

“An inspiring collection of those who have fought and continue to fight against the evil of slavery and an effectively solemn reminder that slavery remains a global plague.” Kirkus Reviews

“A powerful indictment of human rights abuses and tribute to the women who have fought them.” Starred review, Publishers Weekly

We also wrote the award-winning book Five Thousand Years of Slavery.

GIVEAWAY: Enter for your chance to win a copy of Speak a Word for Freedom by filling in the entry form below. US and Canada only, March 21-31, 2016. Winner to be announced on April 1, 2016. Giveaway is now closed! Congratulations to Sheelagh for winning a copy of the book.

Guest Post: Please, sir, I want some more YA

Hello! We’re so happy to have Sarah Essak here at Tundra. She’s been working behind the scenes in editorial with us. You’ll find her reading manuscripts, writing reports, and lending a helping hand with a smile. We wouldn’t have had such a smooth sales conference this week without her. Some of her out-of-the-ordinary tasks included making newspaper hats and filling tubs with cotton candy for our reps to enjoy. We thought you’d like to hear from her today!
TundraYASarah Essak: About a month ago, I ran into a fellow intern in the shared kitchen. I told her I needed to take a brief break because the manuscript I was reading was getting too intense. She looked at me strangely and said “but you work at Tundra.” It took me a moment to work out what she meant. Oh. Right. YA books aren’t meant to affect you the same way as high literature. My friend is by no means the first person to think that. I myself have been guilty of judging readers based on what is in their hands. But after working at Tundra for three months, I’ve read multiple manuscripts that will stay with me for a long time to come. And these are manuscripts. I can’t wait to see what the editors here will do for the books that left me heartbroken, laughing out loud, and drooling for more in their roughest form.

In literary circles and in the eyes of the general public, there is this pervasive thought that YA books are not worth the time and attention of mature readers. In fact, YA as a genre is often scoffed at, and those who advocate for it open themselves up to mockery. Have we forgotten about coming-of-age novels such as Great Expectations, The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Oliver Twist? And what is YA if not stories about coming of age? There are stories to be told, for what time in our lives is more earth-shatteringly complex than when we are teenagers, learning who we are and what the world is like?

Perhaps we are in a time where YA novels have hit a trend that some find “fluffy,” but much of adult literature is in the same situation. That is not to say it is bad, but it is to say that there is a wide variety of work out there. So, I’d like to piggyback on a well-known proverb and say, don’t judge a book by its genre. In the words of the almighty Atwood: “There is good and mediocre writing within every genre.” Pick up a YA book; you might just be surprised by what you find.