My students were very excited for the opportunity to read an ARC of Rival (sent by Sara) and interview her for this feature. I have only heard positive reviews from my students; THEY have been booktalking this title like crazy! So thank you, Sara, for sending them the ARC and bookmarks and participating 🙂
Summary of Rival (From Goodreads):What if your worst enemy turned out to be the best friend you ever had?
Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.
Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.
The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.
As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?
**Note: My students asked some spoiler questions, which I’ve posted in white. Highlight the area to see Sara’s answer.**
- When you were in high school, were you like Brooke, Kathryn or anyone in the book?
In high school, my personality was probably more like Kathryn’s. I wasn’t bullied like she is, and my family didn’t have financial problems, but I was sort of studious and unsure of where I stood socially. Today I’d say I’m more like Brooke: driven to succeed and impatient with people who play petty games.
- Have you ever thought about what happens after the Blackmore?
Yes! But first let me warn people reading this who haven’t read the book yet – this answer includes spoilers!! OK, have all the folks who don’t want to be spoiled moved on? Alright. Highlight for the answer. My original version of the book skipped ahead to show the girls as adults. Brooke went on to become a performer, while Kathryn kicked butt in college and became a writer. As for what happens in the weeks and months after the competition, a book blogger gave me the idea that maybe Brooke finds some way to give Kathryn some of the prize money. I’ve been thinking about exploring that, maybe as a special treat for fans of the book.
- Have you ever had a rival you had to forgive?
None of my rivalries were ever as intense as Brooke and Kathryn’s, so there’s no one I’ve really had to forgive. It’s more like there are people I’d like to revisit—see how they ended up, where they went after school, how they’re doing, stuff like that!
- What made you want to start in the middle of the book and kind of mush the two years together?
A good rule of thumb with stories is to start where the main action begins, and the main thread of RIVAL is the countdown to the Blackmore. So I started it when both girls learn they’ve made it to the competition. That’s really what starts them to hyperfocus on each other, and that causes them to flash back to how their friendship fell apart in the first place. By flashing back, I wanted to bring more depth to what the girls are experiencing in their senior year.
- Are the characters based off people you really know?
Not really. There may be some nods here and there, but Brooke and Kathryn are their own people through and through!
- Why did you decide to set the story in Minnesota?
I wanted a place that would feel sort of out in the middle of nowhere to a girl from New York, but a place where it would be believable that a prestigious singing competition could take place. I have family in Minnesota and know that the arts are quite excellent in many of the schools, so it felt good to put the story there.
- When Brooke and Kathryn were fighting, who were you rooting for?
If you’re asking about the actual fight scene, I have to say I felt like both girls had things they needed to get off their chests. It felt good to let them go after each other, and since I knew where each was coming from, I could see what each was trying to accomplish. They are both so right and yet so wrong at the same time!
- Why is Brooke even friends with Chloe?
I think a lot of us have people we become friends with and we don’t really understand why. I think Chloe decided she and Brooke were going to be friends and sort of made it happen, with Brooke just going along. That’s part of Brooke’s growth as a character – she looks at her friends and realizes she can’t just be wishy washy and let people lead her around. She needs to choose to put people in her life who are actually going to make it better.
- Were you in chamber choir in high school?
Yes! I was in Chamber Choir and the show choir. (We called it the “Pops Choir.”)
- My teacher read a review of your book that said your book was like the show Glee but with chamber music. Are you a Gleek or just really into show choir and chamber music?
I love “Glee.” Like any fan, I can pick apart aspects of the show that I don’t enjoy, but overall I think it does a great job of capturing the way being in something like a show choir can make you feel like you’re part of something special.
- Are you planning on writing any other books like Rival?
I’m working on a book right now that has a section that takes place at music camp. That book is more of a romance. Then I’ve got a book that takes place during sorority rush; it’s definitely got rivalries in it.
- How did you get the idea for Matt?
The actual character of Matt is not based on anybody I know or knew, but the idea of a best guy friend *is* based on my own experience. I had a wonderful best guy friend in high school. We actually went on to date for a couple of years, and he was just an amazing guy. I felt like Kathryn would need someone like that to help balance out all of the girl drama she experiences.
- Would you be willing to Skype with one of Mrs. Andersen’s classes before the year 2013?
- How much of your original draft of Rival was cut by your editor?
It wasn’t so much cut as reorganized. I chopped the whole thing up and put it back together!
- What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always remembered how intense things could get when it was time to audition for elite choruses or the big musical – at my school, these things could get competitive. Add in the usual drama of high school relationships, and I knew there would be some great opportunities to create conflict. I also wanted to look at both sides of a complicated friendship—to explain how our own experiences and assumptions can keep us from recognizing the people who should be our biggest allies.
- This is a spoiler question. Don’t read if you don’t want to know how it ends! Highlight for the question and answer. What made you pick Brooke to win the Blackmore competition?
Again, spoiler alert!! Stop here if you don’t want to know how the book ends!! From a purely technical standpoint, I thought Brooke would naturally have been the better performer. She’s been groomed for this her whole life. She’s so driven. She’s going to win. From a story standpoint, the Blackmore is really all she has in the end. She’s given up her popular friends, she’s had to accept that her dad isn’t really there for her, and she’s choosing to move on in spite of that. Kathryn, meanwhile, has the guy, the supportive family, and other dreams besides being a star. She’ll be OK whether she wins or doesn’t. For Brooke, I felt like losing the Blackmore would mean losing so much more. I felt like she deserved it
- How long did it take to write the book?
Off and on, almost 6 years! But I wrote a couple of other books during that time, too.
- Do you want your book to be turned into a movie someday?
Of course! I would love to see Brooke and Kathryn on the big screen!
- How old were you when you first started writing or developing the idea of writing?
I started writing stories when I was in 3rd grade, on into high school. I picked it back up again in my 20s when I was a journalist and got tired of writing about fires and city council meetings.
- How did you come up with the book title?
I wanted something that would be catchy and evocative, and RIVAL is what these girls are. I figured you can’t go wrong letting people know what the book’s about!
- Did Chloe make that website about Brooke’s father and his boyfriend Jake?
I honestly don’t know whether Chloe did or not. I think she’s probably the best candidate, especially given the timing, but I liked the idea of leaving it open, too. Like Brooke and her brother say, it could have been anyone with the way celebrity gossip gets around. One of the things I like about RIVAL is that there are ambiguities like this – you’re often not sure whom to blame for something. I think life is like that a lot of the time. We think we know who’s at fault, but how often do we have the real, full story?