Tuesday, January 8, 2019

MEENA MEETS HER MATCH -- Karla Manternach's Debut MG Novel

What could be more exciting than reading the first lines of a debut novel!

Meena Meets Her Match is by Karla Manternach, with cover art and illustrations by Rayner Alencar. Meena loves color and creating things out of discards she finds in her neighbors' recycling bins. Her life is upended when her best friend Sofia stops playing with her at recess. Then a medical crisis sends Meena to the hospital, where everything becomes all too gray. Her loving family does their best, but she must find her own way to let her true colors shine again.

The novel radiates charm and humor, while tackling some difficult issues about illness. I asked Karla to answer a few questions.

Meena is a delightful, unique character and yet totally recognizable. Her use of color is so fun. When she begins to face her medical crisis, that character trait is also an excellent contrast to what she's going through. What could be more colorless than the hospital's sterilized world? Which came first––the character detail or the plot?

It was actually a scene that came to me first––a medical test. I didn't have a clear sense of Meena's big personality, just how scared she was. I also saw how she faced the experience with more self-awareness than we usually give children credit for.

From your author notes, I know that your own daughter suffered from seizures like Meena. Was it hard for you as parent to write about, and relive, those difficult days?

It wasn't hard; it was the only thing possible. My daughter Amelia was nine when she had her first seizure. I'd never been so scared. While we were waiting to find out if there was something seriously wrong with her, I spent days pacing and crying, then putting on my game face before I picked her up from school. I started writing about it because it was the only thing I could think about. I found myself writing from Amelia's point of view, to imagine what she was going through and to anticipate what she might need from me. I had no intention of turning what I was writing into a book. I didn't start to wonder if that was possible until later, when we knew her condition was manageable.

What is your daughter's response to the novel?

I actually showed her what I had written fairly early on. I didn't want to continue unless I had her permission. She was adamant that I finish. To tell the truth, she got impatient with how long it took! I needed time to figure out how to tell a story that was funny and heartfelt, but still dealt honestly with a scary experience. She's thrilled to finally see it in print.

I particularly admire the way you inhabited Meena's perspective, especially as she starts to figure out what's wrong with her. How did you strike the balance of wanting to be left alone and yet needing a lap to crawl onto?

That's what kids need, right? At Meena's age, they relish their growing independence. They're starting to do things by themselves that they never could before. They love that! At the same time, they need to be loved and cared for, especially when things get scary. They experience significant regression during tough times, and that's totally normal.

I wish my daughter had had a craft room! Do you enjoy making things?

I don't! Isn't that funny? I'm still that exasperated mom who groans at the things my kids drag home. Amelia is still that creative kid who crams cupboards full of colorful lids and empty drink containers that are "too cool to throw away."

Rayner Alencar's illustrations are so charming and whimsical. Did you have any input into them? What was your response to seeing your characters?

Simon & Schuster didn't ask for input before Rayner went to work, but they ran the preliminary art by me and were very responsive to feedback. I love what he came up with. It was interesting to see where his vision was similar to mine and where it differed. I do a school visit with younger students where I read some of the book and ask them to draw Meena as they imagine her. After that we look at Rayner's cover art. We talk about how the author writes the story, but the reader imagines it.

I understand there's going to be a sequel?

There is! It was great to spend time with Meena again and to see what she got into next. I really enjoyed thinking about the next stage of her development. Her grandiosity is deeply embedded in her character. She also, bless her, has a big soul. Balancing those qualities makes her fun to write about. I'd love to do it again!

Thank you, Karla, for sharing your work and your story. 

For more information about Karla, you can visit her website.

3 comments:

  1. This sounds like such a powerful book. Congrats on the release, Karla!

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  2. As the mother of the mom who 'spent days pacing and crying', my heart ached, and still aches for what she went through during that worrisome time. Bravo to Karla and to Meena!

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    1. Bravo to you too for helping them get through it!

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