Can you relate to feeling the pressure to be someone you’re not? Author AmyLea Murphy explores what’s hiding behind a mask through the eyes of a teenager in her upcoming novel Fine. In this interview, we ask AmyLea what makes her so passionate about this topic and get some inside scoop of her soon-to-be popular young adult fiction.
What was the inspiration for FINE?
In a very short period of time, three teenagers in my community were tragically taken from the world too soon. One took his own life, one died of an overdose, and another was tragically abducted and murdered. It was absolutely heartbreaking, and our community was in shock because these kids seemed perfectly fine. That’s when I got the idea of writing a story that took an honest look at the ever-widening gap between the authentic emotional lives of teenagers (and everyone, really) and the persona put on for others.
Can you tell us a little bit about your book?
Fine is the story of Katie Williams, an eighteen-year-old girl who has been struggling since her older sister, Anna, disappeared six years earlier. The summer after she graduates high school, she’s feeling absolutely unprepared to face the pressures of becoming an adult and can’t imagine going through life without her sister any longer. After a chance encounter with her childhood friend, Jack, she realizes she needs answers to why Anna suddenly vanished. Katie then connects with the officer in charge of Anna’s missing person’s case and reads through the file, hoping to discover some new information. As she pours through interviews, emails, police memos, and portions of her sister’s diary, she begins to realize that there was a lot more going on with her straight-A, cheerleading sister than everyone thought.
How do you think your book relates to the world today?
I think everyone can relate to feeling the pressure to be someone you’re not. We all hide our crazy and put on a brave face to the world, to some extent. The problem is hiding our genuine feelings has become a cultural barrier to finding the kind of friendships and relationships that are the most fulfilling. More importantly, our mental wellness often depends on being okay with not being okay.
What type of reader will enjoy your book?
I think anyone who has ever been a teenager will enjoy this book! We all have an inner teenager who would delight in Katie’s sarcasm and Anna’s stinging jabs at the hypocrisy of society. More importantly, I think we all need a reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit, which is the essence of Fine.
If your book was a movie, who would play the main character?
I think Kaitlyn Dever would be great as Katie. I’m not sure about Anna. Maybe Sabrina Carpenter, or Sasha Pieterse, could play her.
What is your favorite passage from your book?
I think one of my favorite passages from Fine is one of Anna’s rants in her diary. It reads:
“How are you?”
The answer to this question is so nauseatingly predictable. My programmed response is to light up with a great big smiling “Good.” Sometimes it might be “Great” or “Pretty good.” I use “Okay” if I can’t muster a smile at all. I might say “No complaints here” if I’m annoyed by the transparency of the question poser and therefore feel the need to channel my grandpa ironically. My classic, however, is “Fine.” That one fits best when what’s being said isn’t as important as what’s not being said. Fine is neither good nor bad. It is acceptable, satisfactory, or adequate. It’s fine. Period. End of discussion.
Of course, my response is always quickly followed by a reciprocal “How are you?” which can be modified with an extra-long “ouuuuu” or extra-high “ou,” depending upon how important it is to make the other person believe my sincerity. It is simply good manners to respond quickly and in kind. Plus, it keeps people focused on what they really care about—themselves.
Although I have mastered the art of handling this ridiculously mind-numbing interaction, I do wish people would just stop asking the question at all. There are a number of other suitable expressions to throw at one another in passing, so why use one that actually necessitates a response that is almost always a lie? We could say “Nice seeing you” or “Hey there” or even stick to a solid head nod. It seems to me we should say what we mean, and if we mean, “I see you,” then say that. Don’t start a conversation that requires a response from me if you aren’t going to care about what my answer actually is. That, Miss Manners, is actually rude.
Did Personal Life Experiences Help Shape This Book? If So, Can You Tell Us About One?
Looking back, I think my teenage years were very pivotal. I struggled with some heavy emotions throughout high school. I grieved the deaths of several family members and a friend who died in a car accident my junior year. I stressed about grades and college applications, as well as my social status. I lost and found friendships, and I fell head over heels in love for the first time. It was really intense and I learned so much about myself during those years. Now, I look back at that time as a sacred rite of passage. That perspective, and the experiences that molded it, also shaped this book in countless ways.
What is one thing you want the world to know about you and your book?
I want people to know that Fine is more than a mystery, although it is that too. It’s an intimate glimpse into the private worlds of two teenage girls struggling to be themselves in a complicated, ever-changing world.
I suppose the world should know the same thing about me— that I’m a bit of a mystery and I’m trying to be myself in a complicated, ever-changing world!
How is your book different from other YA books out there right now?
I think Fine is similar to mysteries like Vanishing Girls and Sadie, as well as One of Us Is Lying. However, it’s got some pretty great graphics that allow the reader to read through the police file along with Katie. It also blends the emotional honesty found in Thirteen Reasons Why and John Green’s novels with a hopeful and resilient perspective.
Other than writing and reading, what is your favorite pastime?
I love spending time in nature, listening to music, and hanging out with my family. I’m an adventurous type, so I like traveling and trying new things as much as I can. My newest thing is paddle boarding.
Can you give me three fun facts about the main character of your book?
Let’s see. Katie Williams loves mac’n’cheese, drives a Ford Focus, and has a crush on an older guy. You’ll have to read the book to find out who… 😉