Dana Reinhardt is the author of a number of YA books, most recently The Summer I Learned to Fly, a novel about an awkward teenage girl coming of age with the help of a very interesting cheese thief. She’s also one of the judges for Figment’s teenquake contest. She’s written about some fascinating issues like PTSD, rape, dishonesty, and family dynamics—read what she has to say about them below.
You spent a long time doing lots of different jobs, even though you always dreamed of writing for teens. Was there a defining moment when you decided it was time to follow your dream?
When I decided to go to law school, my father, who is a federal judge, told me I was making a mistake. “You should be a writer,” he said.
“How do I do that?” I asked.
He shrugged. “You just write.”
After all these years, I still think it’s the best piece of advice on writing I’ve ever been given.
I graduated from college and looked for a job. I didn’t know anybody who would hire me to write a young adult novel, so I looked elsewhere, and then eventually went back to school to study law. I tried different careers, all of which have informed my writing in one way or another. And then, when my first child was about a year old, I was wrapping up a documentary on the LAPD. I’d spent much of my daughter’s first year riding around in the back of a gang patrol car from the hours of 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. and had decided that I’d have to try something new that might be more conducive to raising children. I took the summer to think it over and it was then that I wrote my first book. I finally did what my father had told me to do. I sat down and I “just wrote.”
How did working with foster care adolescents shape you as a writer?
It exposed me to all different sorts of kids with all different stories. It showed me what’s universal and what’s particular. It solidified my respect and affection for teens.
What are your favorite YA books?
Bridge to Terabithia, Holes, When You Reach Me, The Outsiders, The Pigman, Lord of the Flies, Dark Water, The Book Thief, The Tale of Despereaux… those are the ones that come to mind immediately and without me getting up to look at my bookshelves. (Too lazy for that.) I know I’m missing many of my favorites, but I can’t ever make a comprehensive list because there are simply too many books I love. I realize that some of the titles I’ve listed might be considered middle grade, and one might be considered adult, but I try not to pay too much attention to how a book is shelved. These are just some of the books I think are the very best books for or about young people (and mice).
You’ve explored so many interesting, topical issues in your writing. Which has been the most rewarding?
I guess writing about Levi and Boaz in The Things a Brother Knows [about a teenage boy whose older brother comes home from war almost unrecognizably changed] has been the most rewarding experience. I really struggled with that book. I wanted to capture the challenges an entire family faces when a soldier comes home, and I wanted to be true to that experience but also write a book that didn’t feel like a chore to read. Living with those characters for as long as I did and doing the research needed to get the story right led to a better understanding and appreciation for what our soldiers go through, and I’m grateful for that.