Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University. She received her MFA from The University of Arizona and was the recipient of the national Jacob K. Javits fellowship. Her first novel, THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS, was called "memorable" and "startlingly real" by Publishers Weekly and was nominated as a YALSA Best Book For Young Adults.
Despite their close proximity of age, Abby and Becky constantly squabble with one another and compete for their parents' attention. Can you tell us about your own relationship with your sister? (For instance, did you get along growing up or fight like cats and dogs like Abby and Becky?)
My sister and I did not get along at all growing up! We pretty much fought over everything. Like Becky and Abby, our birthdays are also only a day apart (although we are three years apart in age, and our birthdays are in June), so birthdays were always a particular source of tension in our house. I remember fighting a lot in the pool, too, over inner tubes, the way Becky and Abby do in the first scene of the book. I also remember family vacations where we argued over legroom in the car and sharing a bed in a hotel room. Really, our fighting was constant, and I’m sure we drove our poor mother nuts! I have to say, though, that we’ve become pretty close in the last ten years, and now I consider my sister one of my best friends.
Abby and Becky receive a sapphire necklace from their grandmother as a gift, which ends up taking on special meaning as the novel progresses. Was the premise of the necklace inspired by a gift from your own childhood? Did you realize its value at the time and do you still have the gift?
It was loosely inspired by these necklaces my grandparents gave to my sister and I when we were growing up. They were a little gold “j” shape with a pearl (our birthstone) in the middle. We were probably a little older than Abby and Becky at the time, and neither one of us liked the necklaces or wore them, because, truthfully, they looked way more like something our grandmother would’ve worn. So no, we didn’t realize the value at the time. But I do still have mine all these years later, and I’ve only worn it once – right after my grandfather died two years ago. And then I was really glad to have it, to have something that was a physical representation of him, even after he was gone.
After her sister’s mysterious disappearance in the middle of the night, Abby’s whole world is turned upside down and she must try to pick up the pieces of her life as best she can. What prompted you to write a novel centering around the siblings of missing children?
It was the combination of a few different things. I saw a news program on TV that focused on missing children. In nearly all the missing children cases discussed, they mentioned that the missing child had a sibling, yet they never went into what happened to any of them. So that got me wondering. At around the same time, my sister and I had just started to become friends and actually like each other, and I had this thought – how would my life have been different if I hadn’t had her growing up? – and the idea of the book stemmed from there.
One important aspect of The September Sisters is that Abby falls in love for the first time with next door neighbor Tommy, who becomes the one bright spot in her life. Can you tell us about your own experience with that special all consuming “first love”?
I was a little older than Abby, a sophomore in high school, and the guy I fell in love with is actually my husband now! We met in band and dated all through high school and college. From the first time we went out I knew that I was in love with him and we would stay together, which, I know, is a strange thing for a fifteen-year-old to know, but somehow I did. We’ve been married almost 10 years now and have two kids!
The September Sisters takes place in the winter and a lot of events unfold for Abby during some snow days off from school. Growing up in the northeast, you’ve had lots of experiences with being “snowed in”. What are your fondest memories of snow days from school?
Definitely sledding in the snow with my sister, just like Abby and Becky used to do. It truly was one of the only times we didn’t fight and actually enjoyed playing together. That, and coming back in after the sledding, sitting by the fire and drinking hot chocolate. It was one of the only times our mom would let us drink hot chocolate.
Abby’s favorite subject is English and she loves To Kill a Mockingbird. Can you tell us what types of books are your favorites and why? When you were Abby’s age, what were your favorite books?
Well, I love to read the same kinds of books I write, realistic young adult fiction and women’s fiction. I like books that are well-written with compelling characters, so basically character-driven fiction. I just recently read If I Stay by Gayle Forman and loved it.
When I was Abby’s age I used to love to read mysteries. When I was a little younger than her, I blew through all the Nancy Drew books, but by the time I was in middle school, I was reading adult mystery books and Stephen King – I used to love his books when I was Abby’s age. My mom also loves to read, so around that time we started sharing books (which is something we still do!).
What sort of feedback from you received from readers regarding The September Sisters? Can you share with us one comment in particular that had special meaning for you?
The feedback has generally been very nice! A lot of people have told me than can relate to Abby and that the book brings back memories of their own coming of age (even if they didn’t come of age as tragically.)
My husband teaches middle school, so he comes home a lot with books for me to sign and also passes along his students’ thoughts on the book, which is very cool. But one thing that really stands out was when he came home from Back to School Night this year and told me that some of the moms were gushing about the book to him. I loved the fact that the moms and daughters both enjoyed the book, and that these women found it as compelling as adults as their daughters did as teens.
Your next novel, The Life of Glass is a novel about love, loss and self discovery. Can you talk about the book and also share with us any information on other upcoming projects in the works?
The Life of Glass will be out on February 9, 2010! It’s the story of 14-year-old Melissa, who, during her freshman year of high school, struggles to hold onto memories of her dead father, to cope with her mother’s return to dating, to get along with her beautiful older sister, and to sort out her feelings for her best friend, Ryan.
Up next is my first book for adults, which will be out in Fall 2010 from Avon/HarperCollins. It’s called The Transformation of Things, and it tells the story of a woman, who, in glimpsing the intimate lives of her loved ones, is able to illuminate half-truths in her own.
And on the YA front, I recently finished working on a book that’s a love story set against the backdrop of illegal immigration on the US/Mexico border.
THANK YOU JILLIAN!
I am giving away two copies of
THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS
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