Author Daven McQueen will discuss her debut novel, “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones,” with local high school senior Dinah Gardner in a Zoom event hosted by Auntie’s Bookstore at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“Growing up, I read a lot but rarely read about characters who looked like me,” McQueen, 23, said in an email on Wednesday. “In ‘Invincible Summer,’ I decided to write a Black biracial main character because that was a story I wanted to see told.”
In addition to exploring race and identity, the story focuses on the importance of friendship and “how platonic love can be a powerful force for healing and growth,” McQueen said.
Set in 1955, “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” centers on the friendship between Ethan Harper, a biracial teen from Washington, and the eccentric Juniper Jones, his only friend in the small Southern town he is sent to after getting into one too many fights at school. Living with his white aunt and uncle in rural Alabama, Ethan is abruptly confronted with what it means to be Black in America.
“I hope readers come away from the book with the understanding that racism is still prevalent, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” McQueen said. “I also hope young BIPOC readers can see parts of themselves in Ethan and feel that their emotions around racism and identity are valid.”
McQueen will be interviewed by local student of color Gardner. Gardner, 17, is a student ambassador and senior at Innovation High School.
A visual artist and dancer and an avid reader, Gardner has been reviewing young adult fiction for Auntie’s Bookstore for years. When Auntie’s event coordinator Claire Davey started looking for a local young adult reader to interview McQueen, Gardner was an obvious choice, she said.
Gardner found McQueen’s perspective especially valuable.
“I think it’s amazing how she was able to convey the struggles of that time,” Gardner said. “It was sad and beautiful; I really wish I could read it again for the first time.”
The novel was published via Wattpad, an online platform that serves thousands of aspiring authors where competitions and the reading public decide whether an author’s work should be published.
The platform might be more democratic than traditional publishing, but amassing enough readers to have your work published is still no small feat, Gardner said.
During the virtual book event, Gardner and McQueen will discuss writing in general, the Wattpad route to publishing and representation for people of color in literature, among other topics. There also will be an audience question and answer session.
“I’m really excited to talk to Dinah and hear what resonated with her and what questions she has about the book as a teenage reader,” McQueen said. “It’ll be really special and cool to be interviewed about my young adult novel by an actual young adult. I’m just looking forward to seeing where the conversation takes us.”
For more information, visit auntiesbooks.com.
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