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Alyssa Sheinmel Shares Her Inspiration for The Stone Girl

August 15, 2012

Today, we’re thrilled to welcome young adult author (and former Random House colleague) Alyssa Sheinmel back to the blog. We interviewed Alyssa when her last book, The Lucky Kind, was published, and today she is here to share more insight into her new novel, The Stone Girl. The book is a sensitive, beautifully-written look at a high school girl struggling with relationships, friends and her self image. It’s an important book for teens to read, and we were happy to already receive one glowing review from a teen reviewer, sent to us by our friends at Boulder Bookstore.

Alyssa Sheinmel’s The Stone Girl is the story of Sethie, a girl desperate to keep the fat off however she can and confused by the boy who is not her boyfriend. Sethie doesn’t starve herself all the time, or puke up her meals all the time – how could she call herself anorexic or bulimic? Sheinmel tells her story with compassion and understanding combined with a dose of (sometimes painful) realism. Each character is well-developed and believable, the dialogue a perfect blend of awkward and natural (just like real life). Though not the lightest read, The Stone Girl is nearly impossible to put down – clearly not the book I should’ve been reading while babysitting! – Caela, teen reader for Boulder Bookstore

The Stone Girl

My third novel, The Stone Girl, is about a lonely girl named Sethie, who skips the meals she can and vomits some of those that she can’t. I imagine Sethie as starving from the outside in: she thinks so little of herself that she doesn’t think her body deserves physical nourishment, let alone emotional nourishment.

The Stone Girl is not a memoir, but it’s my attempt to come to terms with the years I spent caught up in my own body-obsession, my attempt to put that experience to better use. In a way, I’ve been researching this book since I was in high school myself. Being a reader, as my own body-obsession intensified, so did my desire to read about eating disorders. For years, I read every memoir and every article I could get my hands on, some over and over again. (There are lines from Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted that I can still, to this day, recite verbatim.) Eating disorders were so endlessly fascinating to me that I even wrote my senior thesis about them.

For many years, I didn’t like to talk about my own body-obsession, and I certainly never intended to write a book about it. Honestly, I was ashamed of it, ashamed of the time I’d wasted on it. And because, like Sethie, I never dropped to eighty pounds, I didn’t think I really deserved to say that I even had an eating disorder in the first place. But then, a picture of Sethie popped into my head – I remember exactly where and when I first saw her. I was driving with my then-fiancé from the San Francisco airport to the hotel an hour north of the city where we were getting married. I should have been thinking about wedding cake and flowers, but instead, I closed my eyes and saw a girl, still as a stone, crouched by a toilet. And suddenly, I knew everything about her. I took out my notebook and started scribbling her story. I didn’t know if it would be a book; I didn’t know if anyone else would ever read it. I only knew that I had to write it.

Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of girls out there like Sethie, girls whose stories haven’t been told; girls who don’t have – or believe they don’t have – real eating disorders. There’s a scene in The Stone Girl when Sethie is reading articles about eating disorders in her school nurse’s office: none of them say whether a girl is bulimic if she only throws up some of the time, if she’s anorexic if she only starves herself some of the time. Sethie lives somewhere in between: not anorexic enough, not bulimic enough. And just as she doesn’t think that she deserves to call herself anorexic or bulimic, she certainly doesn’t think that she deserves to ask for help.

I wrote The Stone Girl on evenings and weekends, on vacation days and summer Fridays. I wrote my first two novels, The Beautiful Between and The Lucky Kind, the same way; while I wrote them, I had a day job – I worked in the marketing department at Random House Children’s Books. Last summer, I made the gut-wrenching decision to leave RHCB to write full-time. Without a doubt, it was the hardest decision of my adult life – I spent more time thinking about it than I had deciding whether to say yes when my husband asked me to marry him! Random House had been my home since I was twenty-four-years-old. I honestly couldn’t imagine my life without going into that office every day, couldn’t imagine my days without my Random House family.

I don’t really know what to say when people ask me how my life is different now that I’m writing full-time. Of course, I have more time to write, and I certainly get to write more than I did before. I’m no longer surrounded by the hum of the office, and I’m not with my Random House family five days a week (though I do see them as often as I can!). But in many ways my writing life is the same, because I have the same goal now that I had when I wrote only in the evenings and on the weekends, on vacation days and summer Fridays: every day I sit down at my computer and try to write better than I wrote the day before.

If you want to read more from Alyssa, you can catch her here at the next stop on her blog tour. You can also follow Alyssa on Twitter @AlyssaSheinmel

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