The Art of Getting Stared At
Release Date: September 9, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Synopsis on Goodreads:
After a school video she produced goes viral, sixteen-year-old Sloane Kendrick is given a chance at a film school scholarship. She has less than two weeks to produce a second video, and she’s determined to do it. Unfortunately, she must work with Isaac Alexander, an irresponsible charmer with whom she shares an uneasy history.
On the heels of this opportunity comes a horrifying discovery: a bald spot on her head. No bigger than a quarter, the patch shouldn’t be there. Neither should the bald spots that follow. Horror gives way to devastation when Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. The auto-immune disease has no cause, no cure, and no definitive outcome. The spots might grow over tomorrow or Sloane might become completely bald. No one knows.
Determined to produce her video, hide her condition, and resist Isaac’s easy charm, Sloane finds herself turning into the kind of person she has always mocked: someone obsessed with her looks. And just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, Sloane is forced to make the most difficult decision of her life.
I had the chance to interview Laura Langston about her book THE ART OF GETTING STARED AT, writing, and more! This novel is 1 of 10 nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award and I encourage you to check out the list here, there’s always a great selection. Thank you, Laura for joining me on the blog. Check it out below as well as my review of her fantastic book.
- In The Art of Getting Stared At, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. How did you come across this disease and what influenced you to include it in your novel?
LL: There’s quite a story to that. A number of years ago my daughter had a friend who didn’t spend much time on makeup or clothes. She cared about her appearance, but not to a large extent. I noticed this because before a school dance our house was the gathering place. We’d supply the pizza, and my daughter and her friends would spend hours doing their hair and makeup and figuring out what to wear. This particular girl would spend maybe twenty minutes getting ready. I was intrigued by that and by the dynamic I witnessed between her and the other girls. They were all good friends, but they thought she was weird and she thought they were shallow. Around the same time, I met a woman who had lost her hair to alopecia. She said she’d never truly appreciated her hair until it was gone. I began to wonder how it would be for my daughter’s friend if her appearance was significantly altered. What if she began to obsess about her looks? How would she feel if she’d always prided herself on ‘being a little bit better than the girls who spent so much time on their makeup?’ From there, the novel took shape.
- This is your first novel nominated for a White Pine award, but not the first to be nominated for a Forest of Reading award. Can you describe how you felt after learning the news?
LL: I was absolutely thrilled. It’s a real honor to be nominated, and to be on a list with so many other wonderful books!
- You used to be a journalist, how has this influenced your writing today? What’s your writing process like?
LL: In terms of influence, I’m extremely interested in current events (I tend to be something of a news junkie) and I’ll sometimes find story ideas and inspiration from what’s going on in the world. Because journalists work to deadlines and don’t wait for the muse to strike, I’m used to writing even if I don’t feel particularly inspired that day. Writing is my job so I show up at the desk every day and get on with it. My process is regular and rather boring: write every day, revise each manuscript as often as is needed. Repeat and repeat again.
- For a long time, Sloane hasn’t cared about the way she looks. In the novel, she starts battling the idea of being pretty versus being smart. Why did you feel it was important to include this type of conflict?
LL: I wanted Sloane to believe that there are more important things in life than the way you look. She comes to care about how she looks but I wanted her to start out somewhat indifferent because that would make her journey more interesting. I went with the idea that she favors intelligence over appearance because of the relationship she has with her mother. Her mother is a doctor who believes that. Sloane admires her mother and wants to emulate her. She doesn’t want to be like her stepmother who is a make-up artist. In the end, Sloane comes to understand there’s a place in the world for beauty as well as intelligence. It doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ thing.
- I found Sloane’s love for film authentic and believable. I could also relate that to my love for art and photography. Can you tell us about the ways you and Sloane are similar? Different?
LL: There’s always a trait in each character I develop that I need to be able to relate to otherwise I simply can’t get into their head. I don’t always share that trait but I need to understand it. In Sloane’s case, I can understand her passion for film because I’m passionate about books. I probably don’t put as much emphasis on appearance as some people do so in that sense I’m a little like Sloane but otherwise we are two different people!
- Sloane grows a lot as an individual and there’s a significant amount of character development throughout the novel. Was this a conscious decision? Was it important for the reader to understand this growth?
LL: It was very much a conscious decision on my part. When I write a novel, I’m always thinking about the character arc or the journey the character takes in terms of the story. Sometimes the journey is an actual physical trip or moving from place to place but in many books (and in most of mine) the journey is an internal one. Sloane grows and changes as she struggles to come to terms with alopecia. I tried to convey that to the reader in a way that they would understand and hopefully enjoy.
- Can you tell us about any recent books you’ve read and would recommend? Are there any books or authors you enjoy and have found through the Forest of Reading program?
LL: More than a decade ago, I discovered Don Aker and his novel ‘The First Stone’ through the Forest of Reading program and I’ve been a huge fan of his writing ever since. He’s a talented guy! There are so many amazing authors and stories in Canada that my reading pile is literally higher than my bed. I’ve been on a paranormal-meets-realism YA kick this year and I really enjoyed Sylvia McNicoll’s ‘Best Friends Through Eternity’ as well as Natasha Deen’s book ‘Guardian.’
- Can you share with us any projects you’re working on?
LL: I always have a number of projects on the go. I’m currently working on a short novel for the Orca Soundings line about a girl who discovers a terrible secret about a father she thought was dead. I’m also working on a longer YA novel called One Good Deed about a girl who saves the life of a homeless man and faces unexpected and life-changing consequences because of it.
I was immediately drawn into The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston. The plot and character development are superb! I’m a huge fantasy/sci-fi reader, so on the rare occasion I do read contemporary it has to really stand out. I usually love contemporary reads selected for the Forest of Reading awards and I’m glad Langston’s novel lives up to that reputation. There’s a lot of conflict thrown Sloane’s way and her growth as an individual is outstanding.
Character development is huge in this novel and Langston makes sure to include various literary conflict. The protagonist, Sloane Kendrick is a very relatable character because she presents herself as a confident person while deep down inside battling with how people see her. She also battles with the idea of being pretty versus being smart. For years, she’s believed you can only be either or and lives with the decision of ‘smart’. Sloane’s mother believes you should be true with oneself while Sloane’s stepmother, Kim thinks Sloane should value looks. This leads to a lot of issues between the two, and Sloane has felt for the longest time Kim is trying to fix her. Sloane’s image of Kim is someone without substance, she only cares about being pretty and wearing make-up. The more I read, the more Sloane started to realize maybe there’s more to Kim than her pre-conceived image, and more importantly maybe Sloane can be pretty and smart. When I first started reading Kim’s portrayal as a vain individual, I was really hoping for character development like this. In my opinion, you can’t send an image like this to a reader and not further examine it. Langston is a genius at creating situations where the reader learns more about her characters, and where her characters learn more about each other.
Sloane is a huge film nerd and I found that aspect of her personality very believable. I love when Langston introduces these little details, like Sloane observing a scene and thinking it’d make a great film shot. I don’t know much about film or have a lot of interest in it, but I do love art and photography so I’m always thinking about how that scene would make a great photo, or I wish I had a camera because that lighting is perfect, etc. In the novel, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata, a disease where the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss and I found this combined with her passion for film a very compelling element. While Sloane prefers producing film versus starring in it, she still has to engage with multiple people. All of a sudden Sloane is struggling with being seen and how she’s seen.
Before the novel started, a film Sloane produced for a film class was uploaded onto Youtube and gained 600,000 views in under 24 hours. This catches the eye of Sloane’s top film school and she’s encouraged to apply for a scholarship. She has less than three weeks to create a second film and needs to work with Isaac Alexander, someone she doesn’t have the greatest relationship with. Both get to know each other and realize there’s more to the other person than previously thought. I did expect romance between the two, but it’s like that slow burn romance where both don’t realize they like each other until closer to the end. Isaac is more openly flirtatious and while Sloane gives off false confidence when he says things like “you’re beautiful”, inside she wonders how can anyone like her in that way. This conflict of Sloane versus self is huge here.
As Sloane is coming to terms with her disease, the support system she wants most, her mother is away volunteering in Sudan [doctor]. Trying to hold in her frustration with Kim generates a lot of emotion. Every time this secret, that Sloane is losing her hair, is made known to another person and another, I felt her anxiety and fear. When a book creates such a great emotional response in the reader that makes a contemporary read so impressive to me. I was totally and completely in Sloane’s head and even though I know this isn’t real, I was upset for Sloane and felt her uncertainty of what the future holds.
Langston is truly an exceptional writer and reading this book was like watching a film, the emotions of her characters is so well-done. I recommend this to both the contemporary and non-contemporary reader. The Art of Getting Stared At lives up to the reputation of the Forest of Reading program and most importantly, encourages me to continue participating in these programs [White Pine selection]. Langston ends her book with a lasting impression on the reader.
About the Author:
Laura Langston is a former journalist with the CBC. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest where she writes books for teens and kids.
Laura Langston’s articles have also appeared in dozens of magazines including Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardenmaking, MacLean’s, Skyword Inflight, Alive and many regional periodicals and newspapers.
Visit her website at http://www.lauralangston.com
Follow her on Twitter @LauraLangston