Jennifer Mathieu, a former Houston Press writer turned teacher and novelist, has just released her debut novel for young adults, The Truth About Alice. While the book is aimed at teens, Mathieu says she doesn't consider herself an young adult author. "When I sit down and write, I picture teenagers reading my books," she tells us. "I think teenagers are some of the most fascinating people on the planet and I certainly think of them as my audience. But at the same time, I don't think of myself as a young adult author. I'm just an author, just a writer. I hope all sorts of people read my books."
In The Truth About Alice, Mathieu, who teaches English to 11th graders in north Houston during the day, focuses on a high school in a small Texas town. One girl, Alice, has been the target of ugly rumors. The "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom is filled with nasty postings about Alice. "Alice got an abortion last semester" and "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" among them. More stories about Alice are spread through the school: "Alice had sex with two boys at one party." When the school's star quarterback dies in a car crash, word gets out that it was because he was sexting with Alice at the time.
The story is told from alternating points of view as four students tell everything they know, or think they know, about Alice. But as they talk, the teens reveal their own motives to slant the story and disclose their own secrets; readers discover the "truth" about Alice might not be true at all.
What She Does: "I'm a storyteller. I'm an author but really what is writing except telling stories? I've written all sorts of things over the years including some really bad poetry. With my background in journalism, I have a slightly different perspective on things, but ultimately I'm a storyteller."
Why She Likes It: "All the things I could never do in journalism, I can do in fiction. I can make my characters say whatever I want. I couldn't do that as a reporter, but as an author, I can.
"When I was a teen, books were a sort of salvation for me. I felt sad and lonely and didn't feel like I had very many authentic friendships. I wasn't Alice - I wasn't a pariah, but the world of books was certainly a refuge for me. That's why it's important for me to write novels for teenagers today. Maybe my work can help some kids today, the way the books I read helped me."
What Inspires Her: Along with Alice, Mathieu has two more books in the works. All three, she says, were fueled by her obsessions. "My obsession with life in small towns became The Truth About Alice. I'm obsessed with extremes in religion and cults and that was the beginning of my second book, which is about a teenage girl who's growing up in a very conservative, insular community. I'm also obsessed with Stockholm Syndrome and my third book deals with that."
The plot of Alice is completely fictional, Mathieu insists, but she admits some personality traits came from real people, including herself. "One element of Kelsie came from me. I remember being in high school and thinking I really wanted to say that I was a rebel but that I really cared about fitting in. Kelsie is like that. She's desperate to feel that she belongs and she feels sad about the things that she does to belong. At one point she says that she knows that if she had been alive in Germany during WWII, she probably would have been a Nazi because she wouldn't want to stand out. All the other kids in the class are saying they would have stood up and done the right thing, but Kelsie has the self-awareness to know that she cares about fitting in. She says she'd probably be a nice Nazi, but yeah, she'd be a Nazi."
If Not This, Then What: "I know that when I say this, people are going to roll their eyes, but really this is it for me. This - writing and teaching - is exactly what I want to be doing. I love both my jobs. I honestly can't think of anything else that I would rather do. Teaching isn't just a day job to me; it's as important as writing to me. I have thought about teaching creative writing to teenagers, but that's really still the same thing."
If Not Here, Then Where: "Right now, I love Houston. My stories have all been set in Texas. I love living here. Really, I have to say I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing and where I'm doing it."
What's Next: The school semester is over and Mathieu's on a two-month break from teaching. She plans to finish editing her second book over the summer and get started on her third. And she's looking forward to several book signings and appearances.
Jennifer Mathieu reads from and signs copies of The Truth About Alice at 7 p.m. on May 30 at Blue Willow Bookshop, 14532 Memorial. For information, call 281-497-8675 or visit bluewillowbookshop.com. Free.
More Creatives for 2014 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Scott Chitwood, writer Anat Ronen, urban artist Amber Galloway Gallego, rockstar and sign language interpreter Michael Weems, playwright Lane Montoya, artist Jordan Simpson, SLAM poet Joey & Jaime, designers Suzi Taylor, photographer Ashton Miyako, dressmaker T. Smith, artistLindsay Finnen, photographer Kaitlyn Stanley, tattoo artist Eleazar Galindo Navarro, video game maker Kate de Para, textile and clothing designer Shawn Swanner, video game painter Andy Gonzales, painter Chris Foreman, comic book sketcher Theresa DiMenno, photographer Jessica E. Jones, opera singer Atseko Factor, actor John Pluecker, writer, poet and language justice worker Ricky Ortiz, painter, tattoo artist Rabēa Ballin, artist David Wald, actor Lisa E. Harris, performing and visual artist Stephanie Todd Wong, executive director of Dance Source Houston Pamela Fagan Hutchins, novelist Heather Gordy, artist Mark Nasso, comic artist Shelbi-Nicole, artist Marian Szczepanski, novelist Jonathan Blake, fashion designer Doni Langlois, interior designer Kat Denson, dancer Blame the Comic, comedian Margaret Menchaca Alvarez, artist Jacquelyne Jay Boe, dancer Rene Fernandez, painter Teresa Chapman, choreographer and dancer
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