Book Review and Author Interview: ’89 Walls by Katie Pierson

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Info: 264 pages, paperback, YA historical fiction, published June 5, 2015

Synopsis: College is not in the cards for Seth. He spends his minimum wage on groceries and fakes happiness to distract his mom from the MS they both know will kill her. It’s agony to carry around a frayed love note for a girl who’s both out of his league and beneath his dignity.

Quinn’s finishing high school on top. But that cynical, liberal guy in her social studies class makes her doubt her old assumptions. Challenging the rules now, though, would a) squander her last summer at home, b) antagonize her conservative dad, and c) make her a hypocrite.

Seth and Quinn’s passionate new romance takes them both by surprise. They keep it a secret: it’s too early to make plans and too late not to care. But it’s 1989. As politics suddenly get personal, they find themselves fighting bare-fisted for their beliefs—and each other—in the clear light of day.

Why I Chose This Book: I had the opportunity to review this book in exchange for a copy of the book, and I jumped at the chance. I’ll get into part of why I was excited for this book in the next section of the review, but I’d never read a book set in the 80’s that delves so deeply into the politics of the time. Since I’ve started getting more involved in politics, this seemed like the perfect book to help me get a sense of another era of change. Also, it being set in 1989 was too tempting for my Taylor Swift loving heart.

First Impressions: HOW CUTE IS THIS COVER?! If I saw this in a bookstore, I would totally pick it up. I NEVER see self-published/indie authors with covers like this. It doesn’t really match the content as much as it could, and it is pretty one-size-fits-all YA romance, but it’s such a ‘me’ cover, and it totally cinched this choice for me. Sidenote: this book is just high-quality. I don’t expect much from indie books in this arena, but the paper was thick and heavy, the binding was tight without breaking, and it just felt good in my hands.

What I Liked: So much! I loved the class in which a large part of the story starts, I loved how the politics and romance never outshine one another, I love all the additional information in the back (glossary, timeline, further reading, bibliography, etc), I loved that it leaned liberal without painting conservatives as villains, I loved how relatable it felt, it was just a good read. I read it on a flight back from my visit to North Dakota, and it didn’t even last the entire 1.5 hour flight. The only time I stopped reading was to cry and stop feeling airsick. SO GOOD.

What I Didn’t Like: One thing that this book made me realize is that kids will always have to try and see how their political views differ/agree with their parents. My sister and I have opposing views on almost everything from our parents, so many of the conversations in the book between Quinn and her parents felt so true. It’s a sucky thing to realize, but that’s how change happens. The kids in this book also grew up with this war, and that’s so relevant to today’s youth. It hurt to read and see how little the world has changed in that arena. Also, this book made me cry and feel things. #Rude.

Ratings and Recommendations: I think this is a book every high school and public library should have available. It teaches recent history in such an organic way, and (nonfictionalized) history is NOT my thing. I suggest this to anyone that is curious about the US and periods of great social change. It’s also just a good romance. 2. Loved It

Final Thoughts: I loved this book. I have already recommended it to a handful of people and I’ll be looking out for more from Katie Pierson.

What I like to do with books I receive for review is get an interview with the author. I love seeing the background of the story, and getting to know these contributors to the book world is a chance I don’t get often. So here’s the interview with the amazingly talented Katie Pierson!!

The first part of the book is largely set in a US Foreign Relations class. Did you have a similar class when you were in high school?

Yes, I had a social studies teacher my senior year who really made me think critically for the first time, and got me hooked on U.S. Foreign Policy. Unlike Mr. Levine, though, he gave tests and was a tough grader. 

One of my favorite aspects of this book was that it presents both sides in their flaws and features. In other media, this is a view increasingly harder to find. Did you have people in your life that helped find this middle ground, or did it come from within?

Like Quinn, I grew up in a prominent Republican family in Lincoln, Nebraska. I understood in those days that being philosophically “small government” meant that you personally showed up to be part of the social safety net through volunteer work, quiet philanthropy and being a good neighbor. I don’t hear this anymore in the GOP. I don’t hear “volunteer and donate.” I hear, “It’s all mine. You can’t have any, and it’s all your fault.” That’s meanness of spirit, not fiscal or social conservatism. Partly, I wrote this book to show what partisan politics used to look like. Writing it also helped me deal with my frustration with the shut-down of meaningful debate during the build up to the Iraq War. Dialogue isn’t just possible but critical in a democracy. I wish we all spent more time trying to figure out what our “adversaries” want and fear rather than trying to score another sound bite.

When I was growing up, Green Day was one of my favorite bands. So seeing both characters go to (and subsequently ignore) one of their early concerts was amazing! What inspired you to include this band and not another?

I wasn’t nearly cool enough to appreciate Green Day as a young adult. I was listening to Madonna and Prince with everyone else. I got hooked on Green Day when they released “Holiday.” My research revealed that they’d been around for decades and I thought mentioning them in the book would be a fun way to make historical fiction relevant to teen readers.

What inspired you to write a novel set in 1989? 

1989 was the summer that changed everything for me. First, on July 3, the Supreme Court’s Webster decision gave states the power to limit abortion access and opening the door for waiting periods, procedural bans, and state-scripted woman shaming. It upheld a Missouri statute that said that human life began at conception and barred the use of public funds for abortion and prohibited abortions at public health facilities. Webster made it okay for states to restrict abortion before the point of viability, and marked the first time in 26 years that the court failed to affirm Roe v. Wade. It set up a system of Jim Crow for women.

At the time I was volunteering as an abortion counselor at the Planned Parenthood affiliate in downtown Philadelphia. This was before the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act. I was already spending every Saturday pushing through hostile, screaming crowds to help my patients get in the building. Webster felt like a huge betrayal. And the Republican Party didn’t put up much of a fuss. That was the point in which I changed parties and thought, maybe those of us who are not privileged white males, need big government to guarantee our basic rights.

The summer of 1989 was also when my dad died. Writing this book let me imagine the adult conversations with him that would have helped me make sense of the huge shifts in the political landscape in the late Eighties.

Quinn’s debates with her family were so relatable! Were they rooted in reality?

Thank you! While nothing in this book’s plot actually happened, the relationship between Quinn and her father are emotionally true for me.

What was the first book you remember reading, and did it impact your life?

The Judy Blume middle grade books made me realize that some of my best friends were in books.

What’s your writing routine? Do you have to listen to certain music or have snacks on hand? Maybe jolly ranchers?

I get up at 6:30 and write for two hours (in total silence, always). I put my kids on the school bus. I work out at the YMCA at 9:00. I write for another two hours. My dog sits on the red sofa behind me all day and stares at my back. I read a section of the Sunday New York Times while eating lunch. (It takes me a week to read the whole paper). Then I write for another two hours before ramping up for after-school craziness and the dinner hour. (Is it me or does literally everyone call my house at 4:00?) I work in my yoga pants and t-shirts, usually with my hair sticking up. I feel extremely lucky to be able to do daily this thing I love. I can’t stress enough how much it helps to be married to a great guy with a job and health insurance.

My go-to snacks are Choco-Love Cherries & Almond dark chocolate bars, and apples with peanut butter.

What advice do you have for blossoming writers?

First, everyone feels like a fraud—it’s not just you. All you have to do is print yourself a business card and put “writer” on it. When you claim the title you are one. Second, I have a quote Ernest Hemingway taped to my desk that says, “The first draft is always shit.” Own it. Don’t set out to win the Printz or the Pulitzer. Set out to write what Anne LaMott calls the “shitty first draft.”

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes, but I didn’t always know it. In my office jobs I contrived to write whether or not it was in my job description as a fundraiser for the Nebraska Humanities Council or lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. I’ve written a bunch of political commentaries for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and have an actual fan base for my annual holiday letter. But I didn’t claim writing as my vocation until I was in my thirties. Taking a memoir class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis motivated me to finally put “writer” on my business card.

Lastly, if you could tell the readers of ’89 Walls one thing, what would it be?

You can find out more on my website at http://www.katiepierson.net!

Thank you for having me, Rachel, and for reviewing my book!

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