Classroom Connections is a recurring series meant to introduce teachers to new books.
Gae Polisner‘s THE PULL OF GRAVITY
YA contemporary fiction
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
released May 2011
“Polisner’s first novel begins with a bang and ends with another . . . . There is a great deal to enjoy throughout, and literary kids will surely enjoy a subplot involving John Steinbeck.” –Booklist
“Characters feel real . . . and the plot zips along, championing strength in adversity.” –School Library Journal
“She [Gae Polisner] is a writer young adult readers will surely want to hear more from.” –examiner.com
“Although the teens’ best laid plans go oft awry, they discover that the force of the universe is with them—or at least friendship, family and romance. Pulls the heart in all the right places.” –Kirkus Reviews
Please tell us about your book.
The Pull of Gravity is about two teens who, armed only with the wisdom of Yoda and a rare, first-edition copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, set off on a secret, whirlwind journey to keep a promise to their dying friend. I wrote it as an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved as a tween and teen. I hope I’ve done those wonderful books justice.
What inspired you to write this story?
First and foremost, my own boys. We had always read aloud nightly from the time they were babies into their early teens (they’re 15 and 13 now. I still read aloud with my 13 year old once in a while; the 15 year old, not so much).
From the time we started chapter books and then novels, they loved realistic, contemporary fiction, and weren’t really interested in most of the genre fiction (sci-fi or fantasy or magic like Harry Potter which frightened them). We enjoyed endless Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, Deborah Wiles, Lynne Rae Perkins, to name a few. But the older they got, the more they wanted their books to have male MC’s – characters they could directly relate to in body and mind. And, outside of genre fiction, it got harder and harder to find those relatable male protagonists in contemporary MG and YA. So much was told from a female lead character. So, I decided to write a book for them, narrated by a teen boy. Your average teen boy, who is extraordinary only in the quiet way we are each capable of being.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I did two sorts of research for the book. The first was on Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome – a rare genetic disorder that causes a body to rapidly age so that, by the average age of 9 – 13, most children affected die literally of old age. I had read an interview of a 15 year old boy with the syndrome and it really moved me – his spirit and matter-of-fact nature. The rest of the research was medical and on-line. I didn’t need to go into depth, just have a general understanding of how it works and looks and what medical information exists on it – which is far too little.
Secondly, because Nick’s dad walks from upstate NY (a fictional town near Saratoga) to NYC, and furthermore, because Nick and Jaycee venture from that town to Albany and then Rochester, NY, I had to do a lot of mapping of mileage and streets. During the writing and revision of TPoG, I often had Google maps and walking directions and a calculator spread out before me.
What are some special challenges associated with paralleling your book with a classic?
The biggest challenge was to make Of Mice and Men sound interesting without giving away too much! I didn’t want to ruin the book for kids who will read it after TPoG. It was also a challenge to just find the balance of how much to include for it to feel integral to the story without including so much that it bogged down my own story. I really loved that part of writing the book, though.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
In addition to the many Of Mice and Men ties that are there for the finding if a teacher wants to do so (here’s a link to an essay I wrote on the same), there are themes of friendship – and what it means to be a good friend – taking responsibility and independence, and my favorite theme to explore: that we can be flawed individuals, our families can be flawed, our parents can be flawed, but that doesn’t make us bad. Flawed and bad are not synonymous. That message is important to me. Being perfect is a big old bore. 😉
Thank you, Gae, for sharing your book today! To learn more about Gae Polisner, visit her at gaepolisner.com.