Earlier this week, I reviewed Alisha Sevigny‘s debut YA novel, Kissing Frogs as part of the blog tour organized by the publisher Fierce Ink Press. Whether you’ve had a chance to read my review of Kissing Frogs yet or not, check out Alisha’s responses to the questions I posed. You never know, this interview may just peak your interest in reading this Canadian novel or recommending it for a tween or teen in your life.
YA Book Shelf: I thought Kissing Frogs was a very cute novel, but perhaps not all of my readers will have heard of it. Can you give us a brief description of what it’s about?
Alisha Sevigny: KF is a modern twist on “The Frog Prince” fairy tale. It’s about a girl who finds out she’s failing biology and in order to salvage her chance at getting into university, must go to Panama with her high school conservation club to work with endangered frogs. While on the trip she encounters someone from her past and begins to question if who she’s become is who she wants to be.
YABookShelf: Jess’ journey reminded me of the quotation by e.e. cummings, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Why does Jess think that popularity and intelligence are mutually exclusive, and without giving away any spoilers, how does that change in Panama?
AS: That’s a great quote. Jess had a tough time after she skipped a grade, so in her case all being smart did was get her picked on. She chose to suppress that part of her, cutting off the circulation to it, so to speak. In Panama she realizes that she’s free to be herself among people — well, some of them anyway — who accept her for who she really is. It’s very freeing. Like taking off a pair of Spanx after a night out.
YABookshelf: Not only does Jess try to hide her true self from her peers, but also she seems either unable or unwilling to recognize what she wants out of life. Why does it seem easier to lie to herself about what she wants than to admit the truth and take the steps necessary to achieve it?
AS: I think it can be scary to admit when we really want something. If we don’t admit it, then we can’t fail at it, and that’s safe. It takes a lot of guts to pursue something you really want and to honour that.
YABookShelf: Other than Jess, who was your favourite character to write in Kissing Frogs?
AS: Probably the characters of Juan and Harp. To me, they just embodied goodness and people who were willing to take Jess in, no questions really asked. Some wonderful people did this for me in high school, which is always a difficult time to join a new group. They just had this kindness and generosity of spirit and they’re still dear friends to this day.
YABookShelf: One of the things that I loved about this book is that it presents middle school and high school bullying in complex and realistic ways, rather than presenting some students as only the bullies or the bullied. Why was it important to you to present bullying in a cyclical way with real life consequences that go beyond the intentions of the bullies?
AS: Bullying is a complex issue. I think most people are bullied at some point in their lives, myself included. Some bullies hurt others because of their own issues, and it can help the person being bullied to remember this. It might not fix everything, but it never hurts to have a little compassion for others, and in some ways it might even take away some of the bully’s power. The bullied might realize, “Hey, this isn’t even about me. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
YABookShelf: I’m a vegan, so one of the other things that I really appreciated was how a few of the characters liken true environmentalism with a pescetarian or vegetarian lifestyle. Are you a vegetarian, and whether the answer is yes or no, why did you feature this detail in Kissing Frogs?
AS: I was a vegan for a short time, and then a vegetarian for eight years for environmental and social reasons. (I’m currently a carnivore again, much to my dismay, but am working on it!). I believe that being a vegetarian/vegan or eating less meat is one of the best things we can do to help our planet. The impact of the amount of meat we eat is not only detrimental to our health, but degrades the earth. Rain forests are grazed, water is polluted from livestock runoff, cows contribute more to global warming than all motor vehicles combined. Not to mention the horrific conditions and suffering the animals go through AND the amount of resources given to animals that could be reallocated to people in less fortunate countries (I’m talking myself back into vegetarianism as I write this, lol). I don’t want to come across as preachy, so I encourage people to educate themselves. the Food Revolution by John Robbins is an oldie, but a goodie. You’d be amazed at what reducing the amount of animal products we consume can do for the planet (and ourselves).
YABookShelf: In a Q&A on the Fierce Ink Press website, you said that not only was this novel inspired by your travels in Panama, but also that you did many of the same things and visited many of the same places that Jess does on her trip. What was your favourite experience and place on your journey?
AS: I had so many great experiences in Panama, but I have to say El Valle, the little town in the mountains where the conservation centre is located. It’s a magical place, and we stayed in this beautiful bed and breakfast run by an elderly gentleman and his son that is very similar to the conservation group’s villa described in the book. Also the zip lining and learning to surf was pretty cool as well (the jellyfish stings — not so much!)
YABookShelf: Jess is interested in the mythology of the golden frog and interviews some of the local people for research for her biology assignment. When exploring environmental and conservation issues, why do you think it’s important for the developed world to understand and use local knowledge in forming solutions?
AS: I think involving the local people and their knowledge is extremely important because they may have a different perspective and valuable insight gleaned from the hundreds or even thousands of years that they’ve been a part of a particular environment. Plus things affect them directly, so it’s absolutely essential to give them not only a voice, but to listen to it.
YABookShelf: As part of the conservation club, many of the characters in Kissing Frogs are, obviously interested in environmentalism and animal conservation, while other characters, like Jess’ popular friends, couldn’t care less about these issues. What do you think sets someone who is interested in these issues apart from others? What can readers of your book do to change the minds of people they meet who are climate change deniers, who exploit resources or endangered species, or to help counteract these problems?
AS: For me personally, it was growing up at the edge of the world in a tiny community surrounded by temperate rain forest. It gives you an appreciation for nature and conservation. I think if people get to experience the natural world and the creatures in it, whether through traveling or education, they come to see the value of these things in themselves, and it goes from being an abstract concept to a tangible thing. I don’t know if people can change the minds of climate change deniers, but I have high hopes for current and future generations. One important thing we can all do is to consume less, whether it’s less meat, fewer clothes, less stuff in general. We have so much and others have so little. Do we really need the latest (INSERT ITEM HERE)? Will it make us happy long-term? (That being said, I know what it’s like to want a pretty pair of shoes). It’s about the choices we make.
YABookShelf: At the end of the novel, the conservation club starts talking about another animal they want to help and a trip they want to take. Should readers who loved Kissing Frogs hope to see the characters again in another book?
AS: I would love that! There are so many species that need our help before they’re gone forever. Juan refers to the orangutans that are going extinct in Indonesia due to habitat loss, among other things. I traveled through there and got to hang out with some of these animals in the wild. It was amazing. They’re just so human; you can see it in their eyes. The rain forest there is being decimated for palm oil plantations (palm oil is in everything — so make sure if you buy products with it, it’s from sustainable sources!). So yes, it would be great to follow up with some of the characters, perhaps when they’re a bit older, and see where they’re at.
Melissa, thank you for your amazingly thoughtful questions and for hosting me on your blog!
YABookShelf: I’m glad you liked them, Alisha. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions!