Sweet Sixteener Shannon Parker recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Lauren Gibaldi about her contemporary YA novel, THE NIGHT WE SAID YES (June 16, 2015, HarperTeen).
Lauren Gibaldi is a public librarian who’s been, among other things, a magazine editor, high school English teacher, bookseller, and circus aerialist (seriously). She has a BA in literature and a master’s degree in library and information studies. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and daughter. THE NIGHT WE SAID YES is her first novel.
About THE NIGHT WE SAID YES:
Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over a no-good ex-boyfriend. Graduate from high school without any more distractions. Move away from Orlando, Florida, where she’s lived her entire life.
But Matt—the cute, shy, bespectacled bass player who just moved to town—was never part of that plan.
And neither was attending a party that was crashed by the cops just minutes after they arrived. Or spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of.
Then Matt abruptly left town, and he broke not only Ella’s heart but those of their best friends, too. So when he shows up a year later with a plan of his own—to relive the night that brought them together—Ella isn’t sure whether Matt’s worth a second chance. Or if re-creating the past can help them create a different future.
In alternating then and now chapters, debut author Lauren Gibaldi crafts a charming, romantic story of first loves, lifelong friendships, uncovered secrets, and, ultimately, finding out how to be brave.
Shannon: Well, Lauren, I just loved THE NIGHT WE SAID YES. I can see why it’s been so popular since its release! Initially, I was intrigued by the concept—that the entire book takes place over the course of one night—but I stayed for the characters and their exploration of themes like forgiveness, kindness and second chances. Plus, I am all in when it comes to finding answers to unresolved past love. You capture the push and pull of emotion so brilliantly and authentically for both Matt and Ella, which is no easy task. Brava!
The novel is told in Now and Then chapters, each narrative perspective framing a span of one night. Yet within this limited lens we see the full scope of Ella and Matt’s relationship. The reader watches the couple fall for one another on the night they met and simultaneously roots for them on the night they try to reconnect six months later. Can you tell us what inspired you to approach Ella and Matt’s story in this unique way?
Lauren: Initially I was just going to write the one night—the THEN night where they meet and fall for one another. But as I started figuring out the plot, I realized I wanted more. I love books and stories that take place in one night, but I always want to know what happens next—how much things change, and how the characters react to the changes. So, I decided to go one year later, and there you have it!
Shannon: One thing I loved, loved about this book is how it explored the ways a person stays with you even after they are gone—and not just emotionally. In the book, Ella picks up discarded items like notes found on the ground. It is a practice that started with Matt during their time together and she does it still. This was such a great way to show how a person can remain in your head—even when you don’t want them to. And Matt even tried to use these bits of communication when he struggled to talk openly with Ella. What made you think to incorporate this different communication style?
Lauren: Thank you! I work in a library, so I’m always finding discarded papers. Sometimes they’re just receipts, and sometimes they’re notes or letters or photos and I like thinking about the person who they belong to. So I gave that trait to Matt, who doesn’t have a lot to hold onto. He kind of lives through these notes, in a way, and it becomes him (in a not so great way). Obviously, Ella doesn’t see this as a downside, she just likes him, so that small habit kind of sticks with her when he leaves. It’s a way of feeling closer to him, and hopefully figuring him out.
Shannon: I love that library flotsam inspired this character trait! A major theme in the book is how love is an act of protection, that it entails a responsibility to keep dear ones safe. Sometimes this means pulling away to keep a loved one out of harm. This is something so many teens struggle and I’d love to know more about your inspiration for tackling this theme.
Lauren: There’s that old saying about if you love something, let it go. If it comes back it’s meant to be. I think it came from there. I’m not sure if I 100% agree with the sentiment, but I know, personally, as a teen I over analyzed everything and, at least then, believed it to be true. So I thought Matt, who’s used to kind of protecting himself, figures out ways to protect others who get in his path. It’s both a good and bad thing. He thinks it’s protecting Ella from being hurt, but it’s also not fully trusting her.
Shannon: Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
Lauren: Sure! I wrote THE NIGHT WE SAID YES during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). After I completed it, I spent several months editing it with friends as readers. Then I queried agents and got mine within a month. I realize I’m super lucky there. I edited the manuscript with my agent quite a bit, and after a while it sold to HarperCollins. Yay!
Shannon: Yay, indeed! Now that your book is out in the wild, what do you want readers to take away from the experience of reading Ella and Matt’s story?
Lauren: I’d like for them to learn to believe in themselves, and say yes to what they want—not just want their friends want, or what they think they should want. And though it’s totally Matt and Ella’s story, I also think it’s Meg and Jake’s, so I’d like for them to take away the importance of friendship, in its many forms.
Shannon: I think we could all use a night of saying yes, to being open to the experiences we might otherwise fear or disregard. I’ve already scheduled one!
Lightning Round Questions
Big brother, little sister, in the middle, or one and only?
I’m the big sister—I have a younger brother in his late 20s (he’ll hate me for saying “late 20s” haha).
Music to write by?
I can’t write with music on! It’s impossible for me!
Favorite Broadway musical?
Spring Awakening and Ragtime. I adore them both.
A band you loved when you were 16 that you still listen to.
Blink 182 and The Ataris. I don’t listen to them all the time, but I do play them when I need inspiration.
My parents have a dog, which I claim as mine.
Do you write longhand or type?
Type. I do have a journal I bring around with me for when I’m not by a computer.
Shannon M. Parker lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and sons. As a young adult, restlessness drove her to backpack throughout dozens of countries, adventures she found less intimidating than high school. She has since devoted her life to education and holds degrees from three New England universities. She is often busy rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter, ideally, at the same time. In her debut YA contemporary novel, THE GIRL WHO FELL, a high school senior mistakes her boyfriend’s physical and mental manipulations for devotion, only to discover the truth when it may be too late.