To Be Honest is a lighthearted book that tackles some serious issues. Savvy isn’t looking forward to returning home alone after dropping her older sister off at college—especially since her mother’s new diet obsession seems to be growing even stronger. Ever since she went on Shake the Weight, a weight loss reality show, all she’s cared about is diet and exercise. But Savvy’s more concerned about her judgmental comments about Savvy’s weight. Between balancing schoolwork with her crush on new kid George and dealing with her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior, will Savvy finally get to have the romcom moment of her dreams?
Where did you get the idea for Savvy and the story of To Be Honest? Did you draw a lot from your own high school experiences?
Savvy sauntered onto my page and gave me a sassy line from her first breath during a creative writing class in college. We were just doing a writing prompt exercise and this girl came to me in full force. I actually ended up creating an entire book proposal for a book centered on Savannah that very loosely resembles what To Be Honest became during that class.
I like to think that Savannah is at a much more self-aware and self-confident stage than I ever was in high school. But she isn’t without her moments of self-doubt. And those especially tough moments and thoughts are drawn upon my own feelings of self-doubt that I had growing up.
To Be Honest tackles some really serious issues (anxiety, difficult family situations, eating disorders, etc.) but still maintains a lighthearted and optimistic tone. Did you set out to achieve that from the beginning or did it happen more naturally throughout the process of telling Savvy’s story?
I think the lighthearted tone is something that came pretty organically. Humor and optimism have gotten me through some of my darkest times, and so that comes out in my writing and in the character of Savannah.
This book deals heavily with body issues, both the good, like body-positivity and self-acceptance, as well as the bad, like unhealthy dieting and eating disorders. I feel like the fact that an unapologetic fat girl is the one narrating this story is a really significant choice—not to mention some great fat girl representation! Can you tell us a little more about that and why you think Savvy’s story is an important one?
Savvy’s story is one that I think teens are facing more and more now. They’re growing up in a time when they’re beginning to see role models that look like them in the media, who unapologetically love their bodies in ways that generations before them have never seen. Parents like Savvy’s mom have grown up in a society that has told them that they should aim to be slender, no matter the cost. There’s a disconnect between these generations that can cause tension, but I hope it will ultimately lead to healing conversations between the younger generation and the adults who are trying to consciously unlearn everything they have been taught to feel about their bodies.
I loved getting to see a character living with anxiety whose life and story don’t revolve around that. Was that something you always knew you wanted to do with Savvy?
Most definitely. It’s something that she deals with, and she speaks about, but it’s not her entire story.
To Be Honest is your second novel. How different was the process of writing this novel from your first one, The Big F?
Writing To Be Honest was a lot more personal (and sort of immersive therapy!). Writing about Savannah’s story, and even some aspects of her mom’s journey, brought me back to some tough places. But I don’t think I would have been able to write those things if I hadn’t been at the place of self-acceptance that I am in now, so it was also a moment to reflect on how far I’d come and appreciate the people that I have surrounded myself with.
There are a few TV shows Savvy mentions loving in TBH, like Gilmore Girls and Scandal. What are some of your favorite TV shows and movies? Any that particularly inspired you while writing To Be Honest?
I’m constantly inspired by My Mad Fat Diary. I think that show is brilliant, and poignant, and so real (and super freaking funny). Like Savvy, I’m a huge Gilmore Girls fan and grew up on Lorelai and Rory’s fast banter, so I love a good banter session.
I loved this quote from the book:
“There’s this whole community of people in my real life and online who have shown me that I’m allowed to be comfortable and happy in my own body. And I feel that way most times. Most days I can brush off little comments that Mom makes, but some days, they tear me down and negate every positive thing that I’ve learned to love about myself. It’s like no matter how many positive affirmations I get from an article, book, online forum, or human in real life, one comment from her can erase them all. Why does she have so much power over me?”
“Because you let her.”
Obviously, this is a very body positive book (which I love), but I appreciate that Savvy is allowed to have real moments of insecurity despite that. Can you talk a little more about that?
Totally. Self-acceptance is a journey, and you’re going to have setbacks along the way. I wanted that to be reflected in Savannah. It’s especially difficult when the loudest voices who oppose you are your parents, so her setbacks in her journey to self-acceptance feel very real and validated to me in that sense.
Did you have any favorite moments/scenes/characters to write? Any that were especially challenging?
Anything bantery between Savvy and George is my absolute favorite thing to write. I also loved the clarinet scene because if I’m going to be remembered for one thing on this earth, it’s that I made a clarinet lesson sexy.
The most challenging scenes for me to write were any with her mom. I see aspects of my current self reflected in Savannah, but I do also see a lot of my past self reflected in her mom. It was hard for me to go back into that headspace where I had once believed that dieting and losing weight were my answer to happiness.
What do you hope people will take away from To Be Honest?
I really hope it starts a conversation. For parents, I hope they leave the book even more conscious about how their own image of their body and ideas about health can affect their children. For teens, I hope it empowers them to advocate for the right to be happy in their body, even when the voices around them tell them otherwise. I also hope that for adults reading this who haven’t had much experience reading or seeing body-positive media, that it’s a chance to heal, reflect, and ultimately take the steps to unlearn the negative things they have been traditionally told to feel about their body.
What’s one piece of writing—or life—advice that you’d give to your younger self?
For so long, I was afraid to write a character who was like me. I didn’t think it was ever going to be believable for a fat girl to get her own romcom moments. But damn it, it is! Write the stories that you wish to see on the shelf, because there’s a whole hell of a lot of people out there who are wishing to see themselves, too.