All Things New is an amazing Young Adult book that I just read and absolutely loved!
I’m grateful that the lovely author, Lauren Miller, reached out to me after reading a post I wrote on NAMI’s national blog, detailing my experience as a presenter for NAMI’s Ending the Silence. I visit high schools and speak to students about mental illness. Very fitting, as Lauren’s book centers around a girl who has severe panic attacks.
All Things New is about 17-year-old Jessa, who has anxiety and panic attacks and doesn’t tell anyone. She becomes very good at hiding her secret and pretending. She gets in a horrific car accident, that leaves her with scars and a brain injury. She leaves her old life in California to live with her dad in Colorado. Her anxiety becomes worse. Until she meets Marshall, a boy with a heart defect who helps bring Jessa out of her closed-off world, into the broken, but beautiful, real world.
The theme running through the story is that we’re all broken, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of our broken pieces. The book shows how we can make it through; with love, kindness, and courage.
I recently had the chance to interview Lauren to find out about her life and her work as an author. Please join us…
Your latest book, All Things New, centers around Jessa, a teen with an anxiety disorder. Why did you want her to have a mental health condition, and specifically, panic attacks?
From the very beginning, I wanted All Things New to examine the notion of emotional and psychological wounds — the pain we carry that no one can see. For me, that pain was anxiety, which I hid for years. It was exactly the type of challenge I wanted to give Jessa, my protagonist, because anxiety is real but invisible, and it’s closely connected to identity, another core theme of the story.
After Jessa’s accident, she has a form of face blindness, where she sees scars and bruises on random people’s faces, that aren’t really there. So interesting, and that would really be hard to deal with! I’m curious to know how you researched that.
As with all my books, I reached out to experts for help! I emailed with my hero, Oliver Sacks (through his assistant, Kate) before he passed away, which was a total writer’s highlight. Dr. Sacks suffered from face blindness and hearing from Kate what he experienced was a great help. As my story progressed, Jessa’s condition became less like true face blindness and more like ‘regular’ brain injury-induced hallucinations. In addition to that Jessa also suffers from something called aphantasia, or mind’s eye blindness, which means she can’t see any mental images in her head. For that, I corresponded with a professor in England named Dr. Adam Zeman who helped me tremendously to understand a condition that, at the time I started writing, didn’t yet have a name! The science/research aspect of the writing process is one of my favorite parts of writing.
There’s a slightly spiritual theme, as Jessa goes through challenging obstacles to put her life back together. I don’t want to divulge too much, but I’m talking about the first man who helps her at the scene of the accident, and the counselor. To me, that was comforting. Why did you add the spiritual element?
For me, the world is both a physical and a spiritual place, with both aspects being equally real. I’ve experienced moments like Jessa experienced–inexplicable things, people showing up who can’t really be explained, odd coincidences that provide meaning and purpose. So it was natural for me to add these aspects to my story (in fact, all of my books have slight supernatural themes!)
Jessa has a special relationship with her dad. I loved what he said when she was afraid to drive again. “I want you to be free. Free from the panic and worry, free from all that terrible self-doubt I see in your eyes and blame myself for. But you have to want it too, Jessa. You have to decide not to let fear win.” That says a lot, doesn’t it? Not letting fear win.
YES! I love that line, too. It’s the advice I have to give myself, over and over again.
What do you want readers to come away with, after reading All Things New?
More than anything I hope my readers will come away feeling hopeful about the future. Whatever hard thing they are going through, there is wholeness and healing in store for them, even if they can’t see it yet. I also hope my readers with anxiety will come away knowing that they are not alone!
Are you writing your next book? If so, can you tell us what it’s about?
I am actually working on a movie script right now–an adaptation of my first novel, Parallel. It’s been so fun that I think my next project will be another script! I have an idea for a coming of age movie about a girl who’s boyfriend is sent to rehab her senior year of high school, loosely based on something I experienced. But there will be a fourth novel, for sure. I just don’t know what it’ll be yet.
Lauren has written two previous YA books, Parallel and Free to Fall. You can visit her at laurenmillerwrites.com.
You can find All Things New in book and Kindle edition on Amazon. Click here!