Debut Author Bash: Sonya Mukherjee
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on July 26th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
In a powerful and daring debut novel, Sonya Mukherjee shares the story of sisters Clara and Hailey, conjoined twins who are learning what it means to be truly extraordinary.
Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins Clara and Hailey have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence, and they’re slowly becoming more apparent. Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.
Told in alternating perspectives, this unconventional coming-of-age tale shows how dreams can break your heart—but the love between sisters can mend it.
I did a character interview with Sonya Mukherjee earlier this year. Ever since I got to know her twins in this incredibly unique book, I’ve wanted to read it. I’m thrilled to have Sonya on the blog today for an interview to learn more about Gemini!
So Gemini is about an unusual set of twins. Are you a twin or do you have any siblings that you are close to?
I’m not a twin. I have a sister who’s three years younger, and a brother who’s seven years younger than I am. With those age differences, we didn’t have the type of intimacy that twins have. So in thinking about the twin relationship, while I was partly drawing on my own experiences with my siblings and other family members, I was also thinking about what real twins (conjoined and otherwise) have said about what it’s like for them. There is definitely some imagination involved, but my hope is that mixing imagination with those two threads of reality led to something authentic.
Have you always wanted to be an author? Tell us about your journey to publication.
I have, and the journey has been a long one. I spent some time experimenting with different genres and styles, and along the way, I wrote a few novels that were never published. When I discovered some of the great things that were being published in YA, I realized that I might have found my dream genre. But the first YA novel that I tried to write wasn’t really working, and I abandoned it halfway through the first draft.
Finally, I started writing Gemini, and as I wrote the first draft, I shared every chapter with my critique group, sometimes multiple times. By the time I got to the end, it wasn’t really a first draft at all, because almost everything had been revised as I wrote. And then I revised some more, and finally began querying agents about three years after starting the book.
I signed with my agent, Steven Chudney, in May of 2013, and revised some more based on his feedback. We submitted to a few editors and got some rejections, and then I did another massive revision based on some of their feedback. It was only in December of 2014 that the revised manuscript found its home with Zareen Jaffery and Simon & Schuster. And I’m so happy to be with Zareen and S&S, and to have this book that’s so much better than it was in its earlier drafts, I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Is there a story or an inspiration behind this book?
The closest thing to an inspiration would be a documentary that I saw several years ago about Abigail and Brittany Hensel, who are conjoined. They were teenagers at the time, and I just found myself thinking a lot about their experiences and feeling very curious about what this would be like. In a way, writing a book about conjoined twins was an excuse to research something that I was curious about, and to imaginatively delve into all these questions that I had about the experience.
Do you have any pets? I would love to see pictures!
Sorry, I don’t!
What do you want readers to take away from their Gemini reading experience?
I almost hesitate to try to answer this, because in some ways I just want to offer up this story and say, “Take what you like from it. It’s not up to me to say what that is.” But maybe that’s a cop-out.
So if I had to give an answer, I guess I’d say that when we humans look at each other, I think there can be a tendency to look at some people as “like me,” and with those people, we can easily imagine their experiences and their feelings, and that makes it easy to empathize. And then we see others as “not so much like me,” and it’s harder to empathize because it’s just harder to imagine ourselves into their minds and their lives. And then there are others still who we might see as “so not like me that I can’t even begin to imagine it.” And that creates a huge barrier.
I love reading a book that helps me to imagine some experience that had previously seemed remote to me, while giving me a feeling of connection with that character. I feel expanded after reading a book like that. And so I guess if I had to choose, I would hope to give a little bit of that feeling to readers of Gemini.
What are some of your favorite books and authors and what do you love about them?
There are so many! And I love them for so many different reasons. But because of how I just answered the previous question, I’ll specifically name a few recent reads that gave me that feeling of seeing through the eyes of someone whose experience felt new to me: None of the Above, by my friend and critique partner, I.W. Gregorio; Symptoms of Being Human, by Jeff Garvin; Devoted, by Jennifer Mathieu; OCD Love Story, by Corey Ann Haydu; Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman; Say What You Will, by Cammie McGovern; the nonfiction Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt; and also in nonfiction, Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon.
Where can we find more information about you and your book on the web?
Publisher’s page: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Gemini/Sonya-Mukherjee/9781481456777