Today on the site, I’m delighted to welcome authors Keah Brown and Sarah Moon to talk about their books, The Secret Summer Promise and Middletown, both of which released on Tuesday from Levine Querido! (The former was a brand new release, while the latter was a paperback rerelease with a beautiful new cover.) They’ve written their own intro, so I’m just gonna step aside and let them take it away! (Though I will mention that you can read more about both books in June 6th’s New Releases post!)
As queer writers, Keah Brown and Sarah Moon know how powerful it is to feel seen, especially for young people. In Brown’s The Secret Summer Promise and Moon’s Middletown, both young adult novels published by Levine Querido, these authors go beyond visibility and show how love and family, both given and chosen, can shape you.
Sarah Moon is a teacher and writer. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, with her wife, Jasmine, and their daughter, Zora. Middletown, a queer coming-of-age story following siblings Eli and Anna left to fend for themselves after their mom lands in court-ordered rehab, released in paperback June 6.
Keah Brown is a journalist, screenwriter, and author of The Pretty One and Sam’s Super Seats. She is the creator of #DisabledAndCute. Her first novel, The Secret Summer Promise, a friends-to-lovers ode to summer in all its glory, came out June 6.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KB: I’m so excited to talk to you. This book, boy, from page one. I was so anxious for these girls. I spent the entire book just on the edge of my seat wondering what is going to happen to these children? How are they going to make it? I’ll stop gushing, but it’s so good.
SM: I feel the same way. I will say that I wasn’t worried as much as I spent a lot of time screaming at your characters. I was like “Guys come on, just tell her! Can’t you see it? I can see it!” I had fun with them. Why do you think Drea spends the beginning of the book so convinced that Hailee couldn’t possibly have feelings for her?
KB: I think she sort of believes inherently that she has certain hurdles she has to jump in order for somebody to want her. Which is so sad, to me, because I’ve been there. And she’s convinced that somebody like Hailee, somebody so magical and beautiful and wonderful couldn’t see her [that way].
SM: It made me want to scream at her: “It’s right there! She adores you”. It was honestly so delightful just to get to watch her be adored for most of the book without her understanding it. She had to be able to see herself – then she could see how Hailee saw her. And that’s so beautiful.
KB: For me it was important to showcase the community that Andrea has around her, that people with disabilities specifically have people who love them and it’s not based in fear or pity like the media would like us to believe.
SM: One thing I feel like I hear a lot, and I imagine you do too, is that you don’t have evil adults. There are a lot of evil adults in YA, but Andrea’s relationship with her parents is so special. Her father works in food and her mother works in fashion which can both be landmines for teenage girls. And it’s not for her – it’s just an interesting and beautiful choice for her to have such positive relationships both with them but also with their work.
KB: A lot of people who have read the book early have said that it reads a little young. Her parents are too young, it’s not complicated enough – but I wanted to show that was possible.
SM: So much of who she is and how she is comes from having such strong examples of what love looks like and she knows what it means to be loved. And that when, oh I hate him so much I forgot his name–
SM: George, right. Who’s hoping that she’ll be a secret. And I love that that lasts for her for like a day and a half before she’s like “This is ridiculous.”
KB: A lot of times in narratives featuring Black people, they have a broken home life, and those stories are absolutely valid, but I think it was important for Andrea to be someone who knew what she deserved without having to be like “oh my God I’m disabled and my life is so hard.”
SM: Had you written for teenagers before?
KB: I’m a Virgo, so I have a ten-year plan. It was always on my list. I’m a child of Sarah Dessen; I devoured her books in high school. I wanted to be able to give some Black girl trying to figure it all out an actual view of herself that she can maybe carry with her the same way I carry Sarah Dessen’s books with me today.
KB: OK, can we please talk about Middletown? This book – I’m a sucker for a sister story. And a found family story – you give us both. There’s a really special relationship between Teddy and Eli [who meet at an Alateen meeting]. Can you talk to me about that?
SM: That means the world to me – I’ve never had anybody ask me about the two of them. I wanted to write about found family because I wanted to write a queer story, and to me that’s the essence of a queer story. And I feel like there’s a special thing that happens when you meet somebody who immediately sees you. Because she’s going to look at him and judge him and think that he’s just like all the other guys she’s ever interacted with at school. And there’s a really special kind of teenage dude who can look at a female-bodied, masculine-presenting person and go, “it’s you and me.” I really wanted to give that to her. It’s the nod. “You, whatever little package you come in. You’re with me.”
KB: It was one of my favorite relationships in the book – I was like “Sarah can write another one that’s just about the two of them.” I want to talk to you about your process in creating these relationships – how did you figure out which way to go?
SM: Listen, I’m really bad at writing plot, so I write characters instead, and then they start to do things, and then I’m like “oh look, now there’s a plot.” I wanted found family everywhere, and I wanted Eli to get to explore what that would mean to her through these different relationships. There is this really special thing that happens with your first group of queer friends. And with her friends, Meena and Javi, having to learn to trust those friends was going to be the thing for her. And everything else sort of came later – well she has to learn how to trust them, she’s going to have to do some things that will propel the story forward, the plot for the story.
SM: I think that’s all the time we have. It was great talking to you, Keah.
KB: You too Sarah!