Michal Hoschander Malen speaks with Amanda Stern about the rerelease of You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah which coincided with the release of the film adaptation of it on Netflix. They explore Stern’s incredible ability to tap into the tween voice, her own tween years, and the books and authors that shaped her.
Michal Hoschander Malen: Amanda, thank you for bringing us back once again to our long-lost, boy-crazy, friendship-obsessed, absolutely wonderful early teen years. How did you manage to capture the language and speech rhythms so perfectly?
Amanda Stern: Ha, my pleasure! When it comes to capturing the language and speech patterns of my early years, I confess to my ongoing concern that I am forever thirteen inside. I never lost access to the textures and sensations of my earlier self. The way we dressed, spoke, fought, sought revenge, and came through to support one another — it’s all right here. All I need to do is listen. Because I’m a writer, this is a lucky system quirk, and I’m deeply grateful to my thirteen-year-old self that she remains quiet unless I need her.
MHM: An important theme of this story is Stacy’s unique and very personal relationship with God with whom she shares her thoughts, desires, and feelings. Did you address God as a friend that way as you were growing up?
AS: I didn’t. Like any desperate tween, I begged and pleaded with God when I needed something, but I grew up in a secular home, and the friends I had – whom I couldn’t see – were all invisible boyfriends, and far less competent and all-knowing than God.
My vision for Stacy was to have a relationship with God that started out transactional, and to let her wrestle and grow into someone who realizes and then embraces the deeper, more profound elements of having a spiritual relationship with something outside of herself.
Every young person deserves to have faith in something larger than themselves. Whether it’s nature, energy, God, it doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s a positive force. Young people are wrestling with philosophical questions all the time. It’s when we’re children that we learn about life and death, and that the world isn’t fair or just. So, access to conversations around those questions is vital. I didn’t have that. I wish I did.
I never lost access to the textures and sensations of my earlier self. The way we dressed, spoke, fought, sought revenge, and came through to support one another — it’s all right here.
MHM: This is a coming-of-age story about a thirteen-year-old girl and her friends. How well do you remember being that age with all its trials, tribulations, and thrills?
AS: Too well. There were more tribulations than triumphs. In seventh grade, I was at an all-girls school and was a member of a quartet of girls. Two of us were Jewish, and the other two were not. There was a Jewish holiday coming up, and if you were Jewish, you had the option to stay home. Emily and I went to school, while our other two non-Jewish friends didn’t. They’d gone to the movies together, and Emily and I were furious. Because we were thirteen, we were more incensed that we were excluded, than that they weren’t Jewish, but we politicized it. That turned into an all-grade war and after a sequence of events I cannot totally recall, my entire class stopped speaking to me for a month. A month of the silent treatment at age thirteen, from eighty-three tween girls, is something one never, ever forgets.
MHM: Congratulations on the reissue of the book and the Netflix adaptation. How did it feel to revisit your characters? Were you involved in the making of the movie?
AS: Thank you. I stand with the WGA strikers, so in solidarity with them, I’m not answering questions about the movie. But I will say that I revised the book in anticipation, and it was rereleased last month. I had so much fun returning to these characters. I fell in love anew with Arthur, Stacy’s little brother, who can only be found in the book.I loved reshaping his character (literally and figuratively). I developed an entirely new series for him, called Arthur Friedman Saves the World, but so far, it’s just in my head.
MHM: What books did you read as a child or teen which left an impression on you and inspired you to write for this audience?
AS: I was an insatiable reader as a child, with a deep abiding commitment to Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle, Natalie Babbitt, Paula Danziger, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, E. L. Konigsburg, Ellen Raskin, and others! I reread the books of my childhood, especially Tuck Everlasting, well into my tween years. These books – their themes, characters, ideas, and feeling tones – braided themselves into my psyche and personality, influencing me in ways I don’t think I understand. The book that changed my way of understanding the world was Tuck Everlasting and the author’s ability to crack open a portal inside me, revealing a new depth of awareness, is something I’ve never forgotten. It was magical, and it’s that perspective-shifting reading experience I want to catalyze in young readers.
MHM: Are you writing anything new for adults, teens, or children?
AS: Yep! I suffer from spontaneous human combustion if I’m not knee deep in multiple projects at one time. Right now, I’m writing a novel (for adults) and a nonfiction book proposal based on my weekly newsletter, How to Live, which uses different concepts from psychology to look at old problems in new ways. A producer and actress I know wants to turn one of the pieces into a movie, so we’re working on a screenplay together. And, well, lots of other things…
MHM: Thank you so much, Amanda.
AS: Thanks for these questions! They were all really fun to answer.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.