Author pho­to by Jon Pack

Back­ground pho­to by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

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.