Q&A with Kathleen Glasgow, author of You’d Be Home Now
28th October, 2021
Kathleen Glasgow, bestselling author of Girl in Pieces, answers some burning questions about her new novel, You’d Be Home Now.
- You’d Be Home Now is a story about the impact of addiction, but it’s told from the perspective of Emmy, the ‘good one’ in her family. Why did you choose to narrate the story from Emmy’s perspective rather than that of her addict brother Joey? Addiction affects the person struggling, but also spirals outward: to those in the family, school, neighbourhood. I’ve been on both sides of addiction: I’ve been the person struggling and I have worked to help friends and family. I wanted to focus on Emmy as the narrator to give voice to those who often feel voiceless in the face of addiction, especially a sibling, who might feel overshadowed by the emotional attention given to the person in crisis. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t rightly focus attention on the person in crisis, but we also need to begin to understand what happens to the mental health of those in the orbit of addiction. They feel alone, invisible, as though their needs don’t matter. And then they feel guilty about that, much like Emmy does. Addiction really does a number on the mental health of those in its path; that’s collateral damage.
- How did the experience of writing Emmy compare to writing Charlie in Girl in Pieces and Tiger in How to Make Friends with the Dark?Writing Emmy was, in some ways, more difficult than writing Charlie and Tiger! She’s coming from a place of extreme privilege. It’s hard to make a person of wealth sympathetic, because a reader might feel like, ‘She has all this money; her brother will be fine. The family can afford rehab and counsellors, etc.’ But in the end, that doesn’t help. Addiction doesn’t care about your postcode or your trust fund. It will consume whatever is in its path. And what’s in its path is what the book is about: the collateral damage of addiction, siblings like Emmy, overlooked, overwhelmed, exhausted, suffering and feeling guilty about that suffering. Like, who doesn’t want to help a family member struggling with addiction? You’d do anything for them, of course. But also…sometimes, at sixteen, you just want to go to a dance. Get kissed. Experience joy. But how can you allow yourself to feel even a tiny bit of happiness when your sibling’s life is literally on the line? Guilt is powerful and damaging. Writing Charlie and Tiger was easier, in a sense, because they are pure emotion. Emmy was different because she’s not even sure what her emotions should be; she’s been in the background to Joey (and Maddie) her whole life. She hasn’t really been allowed to figure out who she is, yet.
- You’d Be Home Now is a reimagining of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. What inspired you to do this and how did you go about it?Our Town is one of my very favourite plays, ever. The possibility of reimagining it was broached to me by my editor, and I said yes, enthusiastically. The one thing I knew going into the project was that I didn’t want Emmy to die, because in the play, Emily Webb dies. The first thing I did was really think about the town of Grover’s Corners from the play. What would that town be like today? How would it have changed or not changed? I imagined it as a place somewhat frozen in time, still adhering to old ideals and unable to accept what’s tearing apart its fabric. And that would be the opioid crisis, which has devastated communities across the US. For me, the play has always been about what it means to be alive on this earth. Our connections, our hopes, our dreams. I like to think of this book not as a retelling of the play, or even a reimagining, but a repositioning, if that makes sense. I can’t top Thornton Wilder! But I do believe, absolutely, that if he were alive today and writing the play, the opioid crisis would be in Grover’s Corners. How could it not be? But it’s hard to write when Thornton Wilder is in the room, so at a certain point, I had to set myself free so that Emmy and Joey and Mill Haven could grow on their own. When writing this book, I thought about the ideas of the play as the framework for the story I want to tell about this girl, and this town. You’d Be Home Now is like a painting and Our Town is the frame in which it hangs.
- The book tackles the opioid crisis in the US, but its subject is also of personal significance to you. Why did you feel now was the right time to tell this story? And do you think your own experiences of addiction and recovery have influenced the narrative?As TikTok tells me, I write sad books! This is true. But I don’t write them just to write ‘sad books.’ I write books that are sad because the things in them are true. They happen beyond the pages of my books, to a hell of a lot of people. They have happened to me. They’ve happened to someone you know. They’ve happened to a lot of people you know. Addiction, recovery, depression and self-harm are parts of my life. They are the skin I live in. I own them as me. I write about these things because people should know about them and books can be a safe place to explore what you cannot express in real life, or don’t know how to. My own experiences will always influence the narratives I choose to construct because, well, I live with them on a daily basis. My characters are distinct from me in that their stories belong to them, but little bits of me make their way inside. For instance, in Girl in Pieces, Charlie has my scars, but her story isn’t mine. In You’d Be Home Now, I gave Joey my thoughts about addiction, but again, his story is his own.
- The words of Mis Educated give voice and power not just to Liza and Emmy but to the student body as a whole. Why did you feel this was important?I have to say that writing Mis_Educated’s Instagram posts were absolutely a balm to me when writing this book, as sad as they are. If you read the play Our Town, you’re familiar with the character of The Stage Manager, who knows everything about Grover’s Corners and the people in it, and often speaks directly to the reader/audience. I had to figure out how to reimagine that character for this book and that character ended up being Mis_Educated and their Instagram posts. One thing that I love about social media in particular is that it is absolutely used as an immediate public diary for people, especially teens. I used to have a diary with a little lock on it in which I wrote all the things I was too frightened to talk about. Now, social media posts act as a kind of instant diary, viewable immediately. Mis_Educated is anonymous and talks about the hypocrisy of Mill Haven, Heywood High School, the mental health of fellow students, all of it. And this was a great way for me to get other voices in the book, like the teens who respond to her posts with their own pain, their own stories. Those posts are their world, a place they can unload their pain without fear of reprisal from their family. They can be themselves.
- Emmy’s poetry reading gives her, quite literally, a moment in the spotlight. Do you see this as the moment she finds her voice? Was it important for you that she had this moment?It’s funny because Emmy’s poem was partly written by Liza, because Emmy had trouble articulating what she wanted to say. She’s never really been asked to speak up about her feelings before. She’s a big reader, she loves words and narrative and getting lost in someone else’s story but being asked to tell her own is terrifying. I did want her to have a moment, though, where she absolutely had to be in front of people and speaking her truth, standing up for herself. One of the central ideas in the book is that adults rarely see teens as they are; instead, they prefer to see them as they what they hope they’ll be: successful, happy, etc. But you know what? The kid in front of you, right now, this moment, is in pain and needs to you to acknowledge that. And accept it. And love them, in all their pain, without judgement. Emmy’s moment, I hope, elucidates that.
- You’d Be Home Now does a brilliant job of narrating complex and contradictory characters. Do you feel by the end of the novel that Emmy and Joey have a sense of who they are?I think that Emmy might have a better sense than Joey, at the end. I think she’s realised she needs to figure out boundaries. As Liza tells her, you can’t help someone unless you’re right with yourself first. This means knowing what you can and can’t do; what you will and won’t do, in order to keep yourself safe. Joey is in a kind of stasis at the end: back in rehab, unsure of what will happen. Unsure if he can live in the world. Joey has basically been addicted to drugs since he was twelve. He has no idea how to live without them. Who is he if he isn’t high? I love Joey with all my heart. He has a long road to walk. But he’s taking steps.
- In the process of researching your novel, were there any statistics or stories that made a particular impact on you or on the direction of the novel? I listened to a lot of podcasts about addiction and mental health and read blogs and stories by people in active recovery. I researched statistics about drug use and suicide rates. One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that chronic drug users often have their first experience very early, by age twelve. That helped me with Joey’s character quite a bit.
- Who are the writers you most admire? And who has most influenced your writing? I know this book gets a lot of flak, and rightly so, because it’s very much a product of its time, but the first book I ever read where I saw myself was The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. My mother had kept her old copy and I read it when I was thirteen and I nearly disintegrated with a weird, sad joy. Here was a story about a kid who was suicidal, depressed, alone, feeling all the things I felt but didn’t know how to articulate. There’s always a book, especially when you’re young, that kind of blows you apart because it’s the first book in which you’ve seen a version of yourself, and thus, you absolutely know that what you feel is not weird or wrong. You just feel, for lack of a better word, validated. I will always love that book for what it gave me. I admire so many writers and have been influenced by the stories they tell and the way they tell them, like Laurie Halse Anderson. I started my writing life thinking I’d be a poet, so there are a lot of poets that influenced me stylistically and narratively, like Anne Sexton and Ai. I have a lot of go-to writers that I’ll absolutely read anything by, like Liane Moriarty, Gillian Flynn, Kara Thomas, Tiffany D. Jackson, Courtney Summers and Karen McManus.
- What would be your greatest piece of advice to any Emmys or Joeys?I’m hesitant to give any advice because I, too, am a work in progress and that feels like the way it should be! But I think that I would say: you are you, brilliant and messy and beautiful and hurt and confused and a work in progress. Love yourself for that.