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Take Five with Swati Avasthi, Author of SPLIT
Aug 3rd, 2011 by Liza Wiemer

An interview with award-winning YA author, Swati Avasthi

Enter to win a SIGNED copy of SPLIT by leaving your name and e-mail address under comments. If you follow this blog (it’s easy click on Google Follower) then you qualify for a another entry. Tweet it or post on Facebook and it is another one. Just let me know. Giveaway ends August 16th, 2011 at 8:00 PM CST. Good luck. 

 

Congrats to Andrea – winner of SPLIT!

On June 15, 2011 I had the privilege to spend part of the morning hanging out and talking with the incredibly gifted and warm Swati Avasthi. She was in Milwaukee to speak and sign books for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I read SPLIT and was blown away.  There is no doubt that Swati is in the elite category of brilliant authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson, Cheryl Rainfield, and Jay Asher.

Swati and me, June 15th at the Southeast Wisconsin Book Festival

SPLIT is an extremely important must-read YA novel about child abuse and spousal abuse told from the point-of-view of the younger son, Jace–one of the most unforgettable male YA characters I have ever read. The story he narrates is raw, honest, heartbreaking, revealing. I am haunted (in a good way) by his experiences.

Ultimately, SPLIT is a novel about hope, a novel where the main character breaks free – makes the split – from the past and moves on to build a future. The title reveals many “key” moments, and is a metaphor for many situations presented in  the novel. Readers should ponder the meaning of the word and the different scenes that it represents.

Here’s my question and answer “Take Five with Swati Avasthi.”

1. The title of your book, SPLIT, represents many different situations presented in your novel. It’s a powerful metaphor and symbolizes so many aspects of Jace and Christian’s lives.  Were you conscious of this when you were writing the book or did it evolve? What would you like to see readers take from it?

Thanks.

Well… I wish I could say that I was brilliant enough to say I had planned it all, or even that the title evolved, but no.  The title was practically the last word I wrote for this novel.  My editor wisely told me that my former title, GRAVEDIGGERS, was too metaphorical and too paranormal-sounding for the content of SPLIT.  So, I went on a rather long title hunt — over 200 titles that my husband and I came up with and quickly disregarded.  After a couple of weeks of that, you start getting a little slap-happy.  So we started joking about how everything else I’ve had published (personal essay, short stories, flash fiction) were all one word, titled with the letter “S.”  And my husband got out the dictionary, opened it to the “S”s and handed it to me.

I submitted the title, along with 7 or 8 other titles to my editor, who took it to marketing.  They returned, saying that I could chose from two: SPLIT of WHAT WE LEAVE.  I chose SPLIT for a few reasons, but primarily because it has so many resonances within the work:  it seemed to capture the physical and emotional state of Jace and Christian in terms of abuse, their relationship, what they hope their mother will do, and how they have both left their own home.  And most of all, I liked how the one word felt more consistent with Jace’s voice.

SPOILERS, BEWARE 2. Jace is one of the most powerful male characters I have ever read in a YA novel. He’s taken a tremendous amount of abuse and then almost begs his girlfriend Lauren to report him after he physically hurts her. Clearly, he crossed a line. Does his actions make him an abuser? Is he on the same level as his father? What is important for readers to know?

As a society, I think we tend to paint abusers as “bad” and then wash our hands of them.  But, I think that this approach has some serious consequences.  First, I think that we don’t actually prevent further violence this way.  The victim may, thank goodness, go on and live a better life.  But in the meantime, the abuser is moving on to his/her next victim.  Second, I think that the abusers tend to get worse and worse.  Which is frightening.

I think of abuse as a spectrum — born of the same impulses, but different in degree.  Jace has the same impulses as his father and yes, he is an abuser, but his actions are very different in degree.

Jace does not demonstrate a lot of the controlling features that most abusers typically do:  he didn’t isolate Lauren from her friends, didn’t insult her, didn’t slowly erode her barriers about what was and wasn’t acceptable.  Most importantly, Jace blames himself for his actions — he takes responsibility for what he has done emotionally.   Which gives me hope for him.  He’s an abuser, to borrow a term from addiction rhetoric, but a recovering abuser.

SPOILERS BEWARE 3. Jace goes through tremendous growth, yet even in the end we’re unsure where his life ends up. If you could continue his story, where do you think he’d be today? What kind of person would he be?

I love this question.  Thanks for asking it.

In my view, Jace finishes high school, never dating Dakota, and goes to Stanford (something that was a strong dream of his all they way through draft 5).  Every holiday, he returns to his home in Albuquerque with Christian and Mirriam.  Each year he and Christian meet up in Somewhere, USA  to run a Destination Marathon together, step for step.  In his senior year of college, he brings a girlfriend home with him to join them in their ritual Thanksgiving dinner  (half mushroom, half pepperoni pizza), having never raised his fists to any woman or anyone again.

In my view, that Jace knows he has to work everyday to control his temper is what keeps his fists down.

SPOILERS BEWARE 4. In SPLIT no one reports the abuse. What’s your advice to readers if they find themselves in a similar situation to Jace and Christian?

First and foremost, get safe.  Whatever that means and whatever it takes.  I do believe that Orders of Protection/Restraining Orders are surprisingly effective. There are some very good organizations out there to help.  To find one in your area, call 800 799-SAFE (TTY: 800-787-3224) or go to www.ncadv.org.  For dating violence, try: 866- 361-9474 (TTY: 866-361-8474).  But do call or click from a safe phone or computer (Remember that computer histories can be tracked, so the library can be good for that.)

Beyond that, I tend to focus on is putting the power back into the victim’s hands.  I think part of recovery is learning to trust yourself again and learning to make decisions about what is best for you.  So, I’m not one to give advice in these situations.  Instead, I’m one to listen and support whatever decision feels right to the victim.

5. Toward the end of SPLIT Jace comes clean about his past to Dakota, a girl he’s hoping to get more involved with. Why do you feel it was important for him to be honest with her, to take the risk of losing her by sharing his history?

It was an important move narratively.  Since abuse is so frequently enabled through silence, his confession was about speaking.  More specifically, Jace does need to stop all controlling behavior, if he has a chance at becoming someone other than his father.  And so, his confession to Dakota was about relinquishing that control; it was about the ability to be vulnerable and leave the decision in her hands.

To learn more about Swati, please go to her website: http://swatiavasthi.blogspot.com/

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