Interview: Young Adult Author Katie McGarry

13/09/2012 14:36 BST | Updated 12/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Pushing the Limits is the debut novel by author Katie McGarry, an American writer whose book has been getting a whole lot of praise - and attracting an equal amount of controversy. Telling the story of Echo and Noah, mixed-up teens who embark on a all-consuming love affair whilst coming to terms with their personal issues, it's tough, raw and real. This isn't some fanciful love story we're talking about, it's from the Melvin Burgess/Chris Crutcher school of hard knocks fiction. And it's good. I managed to pin down Katie in the middle of a hectic publicity schedule for a quick chat.

Why do you think modern teens want to read gritty books?

I know why I wanted to read gritty books when I was a teenager-- because my life was gritty. It wasn't sunshine and roses. Pink fuzzy unicorns weren't puking rainbows. There were issues in my home. There were issues in my friends' homes. I knew adults and children who drank and were addicted to drugs. I had friends become pregnant early in their teenage years. I had friends with eating disorders and who were battling for their life from disease, had parents who beat them or boyfriends who hit them, and I knew people who were dealing with mental illness. This was real life. It wasn't a book. It wasn't a movie. It was real. And every day, I woke up, went to school, and thought this was normal because it was happening all around me. Imagine my comfort when I picked up a book and met characters who were dealing with some of the issues I dealt with and imagine my relief when I found a shred of hope in those books.

How hard did you find it writing Pushing the Limits from that perspective? Was it from your imagination or researched?

Pushing the Limits is a fictional story, but I did research several aspects of the book. As for how hard I found writing Pushing the Limits from the above perspective: it wasn't hard. There were times when writing I would become emotionally exhausted. I become my characters as I write. Their highs become my highs; their lows my lows. The entire time I was focused on writing a story where two characters are faced with overwhelming issues, but at the end they find hope. Isn't that the greatest gift you can give someone? That no matter what type of situation you find yourself in, there is always hope?

Are you worried/have you felt negative feedback from libraries/parents/teachers/readers?

I'm a people pleaser. I worry if I put too much trash in the can and the garbage man won't be able to lift it. But in the end, I wrote a book that I love and it sends a strong signal of hope to my readers. I'm proud of Pushing the Limits.

Do you think there should be a certificate system for books?

I will say the following: there are fantastic resources available for parents, teachers, librarians, and readers. Some of them are Goodreads, the review sections on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, multiple book review sites, and last and surely not least, book bloggers. If you want an example, look up Pushing the Limits at any of those sites and you can see multiple reviews that talk about what the book is about and the content of the book. If someone is worried about content, these sites can help you answer those questions.

Do you think this is how you'll carry on in your writing career? And if so, are you worried about having to endlessly top yourself in terms of horrible things happening?

I will continue to write characters as true to life as I can and I never worry about topping myself in terms of horrible things happening because that is not how I view my characters. Like Echo and Noah from Pushing the Limits, my characters are living, breathing people in my head. They come with their own histories and my job is to put their stories on the paper. I don't go searching for issues or problems to give them. They come to me as they are and my job is to give my characters and my readers hope.

Pushing the Limits is out now.