Carmen Rodrigues' second novel, "34 Pieces of You," was released yesterday and it's a real page turner that is hard to put down.
The YA novel is told from the perspectives of teenaged friends Jake, Jessie, and Sarah as they deal with the aftermath of Jake's sister Ellie's sudden death. Shortly after Ellie's death, Jessie finds a box of full of 34 little notes under Ellie's bed that slowly reveal the circumstances behind Ellie's death. Did Ellie die of an accidental overdose, a deliberate suicide or something in between? Jake, Jessie and Sarah each harbor secrets about each other and Ellie that they all believe may have lead to Ellie's death. As the trio tries to put the pieces of Ellie's tragically short life together, they in turn learn to put the pieces of their lives together as well.
Sometimes novels told from varying perspectives can be confusing or add little to the story other than being a creative plot device. Fortunately, "34 Pieces of You," is not one of those stories. Jake, Sarah, and Jessie's voices were distinct and well developed. Rodrigues' technique of putting you into each of their heads separately gave you a clearer vision of their personal grief and struggles as well as showcasing Ellie's multi-faceted personality. Without giving too much away of the plot, as the secrets drive the story, this novel dealt with a lot of heavy topics such as suicide, addiction, and sexual abuse. While that might sound quite grim and the novel doesn't have a bright happy ending, the novel does come to a satisfactory conclusion that promises hope. If you enjoy books about social issues with great character development, I highly recommend "34 Pieces of You."
I met the Carmen Rodrigues at Book Expo America, where I received the review copy of this novel, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions via email.
It began as a game of "what if." I asked myself, what if two friends overdosed--accidental or not--and only one survived. What would happen then?
Having grown up in a neighborhood where I closely observed a few toxic friendships, I felt like this starting point, set within the claustrophobic confines of a closely-knit neighborhood, would lead to an interesting exploration of human behavior--the ways in which we influence and alter each other for better and worse.
2. "34 Pieces of You" is a dark but deeply moving novel, what message do you hope your readers take away from it?
I think it's a book that asks you to be more compassionate to those around you; to not run away from the hard moments in relationships, because those are the moments that, if you fight through them, can lead you to a place of greater truth and understanding towards yourself and each other; and that secrets, especially the darkest ones, need to be shared, because that's the only way to fully let them go, to heal.
3. Could you briefly summarize your writing process (from idea to finished project).
Gosh, it's pretty organic. Initially, I come up with a premise, and then I try to get a first draft down. This first draft took about a year. That's because I let the characters take me where they wanted to go, which means I didn't really plot this out. Then, I revise a thousand times and get several readers to weigh in and I revise some more. That's the point where the editor or agent gets involved. More revision, questioning, double-checking experiences that I don't know firsthand-- in this book, the cutting--and more revision. Finally, someone pulls the book out of my hands and I, reluctantly, declare it done.
4. What are you working on next?
I'm working on a novel called CARRY YOU WITH ME. It's about love, family, and astronomy. It'll come out in 2014 from Simon Pulse.
5. What do you like to do in your spare time?
So much! I just moved to L.A., so I'm really into hiking. There is a great, relatively easy hike up to Griffith Planetarium which is becoming a favorite. I also go through stages where instead of writing, I want to read new books and watch new movies. Great works inspire me to become better at my craft.
carmenrodrigues.com and look for "34 Pieces of You," at bookstores everywhere.
Also note that I received no financial compensation for this review or interview. I just love to promote great reads!