Oh friends, once again, I’ve got a TREAT for you: Mitali Perkins is a friend and a mentor, a writer and a future conversation partner with me (so locals, save the date for November 7th)! She’s the author of twelve novels for young readers, and just typing that makes me swoon and say aloud, “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!” But her reading? Oh, it’s worthy. Enjoy this interview on her new book, FORWARD ME BACK TO YOU, with her now!
Tell us a bit about yourself, will you? I was born Mitali Bose in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, and always tried to live up to my name—which means “friendly” in the Bangla language. I had to! Because my family moved so much, it was the only way I could make new friends.
By the time I was 11, I’d lived in Ghana, Cameroon, London, New York and Mexico before settling in California just in time for middle school. Yep, I was the new kid again, in seventh grade, the year everybody barely makes it through.
My biggest lifeline during those early years was story. Books were my rock, my stability, my safe place as I navigated the border between California suburbia and the Bengali culture of my traditional home.
After studying political science at Stanford and public policy at U.C. Berkeley, I taught in middle school, high school and college. When I began to write fiction, my protagonists were often—not surprisingly—strong characters crossing all kinds of borders seeking community, or promoting justice.
I’m the author of twelve novels for young readers published by Penguin Random House, Charlesbridge, Candlewick, Little Brown, and Macmillan Children’s Books. I enjoy visiting schools, libraries, and conferences to discuss “books between cultures” and the life-changing power of story.
After stints in Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Southern California, and Newton (in the Boston area), we are now living back in the San Francisco Bay Area, where my husband is a pastor of a Presbyterian Church. If you want to know more about how I ended up married to a pastor, here‘s the start of the story.
And if you want to find out how I became a mother of twins, read this.
Let’s talk about your book: what, in a nutshell, is your book about anyway? FORWARD ME BACK TO YOU is a Young Adult novel about two teenagers. Katina King is the reigning teen jujitsu champion of Northern California, but she’s having trouble fighting off the secrets in her past. Robin Thornton was adopted from an orphanage in Kolkata, India and is reluctant to take on his future. Since he knows nothing about his past, how is he supposed to figure out what comes next?
Robin and Kat meet in the most unlikely of places — a summer service trip to India to work with survivors of human trafficking. As bonds blossom between the travel-mates, Robin and Kat discover the healing superpowers of friendship.
Do tell, what was the inspiration behind it? The book was inspired by four people I love, one I have known my whole life, two I’ve known for 26 years, and one I will likely never know this side of death.
First, my Mom. When I lived in Bangladesh as an adult, my parents visited and I arranged an outing for Mom to visit her ancestral home. She walked in the front door and walked out. “That stairwell,” was all she said. What happened in that stairwell so many years ago when she was a young girl cast a long shadow on Mom’s life. During the last couple of years, she is finally talking about that event, and this brave act of bringing the memory into the light is bringing healing and grace into the past. She’s moving forward after going back to confront and reveal the truth about a person who hurt her deeply. It’s no accident that in FORWARD ME BACK TO YOU, Kat’s story starts in a stairwell.
Next, our sons. Like Ravi in the novel, they don’t know anything about their biological families. This loss has shaped their lives, and I poured my hope and sadness for them into Ravi’s story. He is the favorite character I’ve ever created–after all these years as a writer I can read critical reviews of my novels with a shrug and an “oh, well,” but if I ever find out that a reader didn’t like Ravi, I’m going to get all fired up.
Last but not least, as I have raised and nurtured our sons, my connection to and affection for their first mother has deepened. How I long to know that she, too, is flourishing somewhere! But like Ravi’s first mother in the novel, she is out of reach–to us, but not to God. And so we pray for her.
How do you hope readers will be changed by your words, and also, how have you been changed by writing the book? As I described above, FORWARD ME BACK TO YOU was inspired by four of my deepest loves. My compassion for all of them grew as I wrote it; I hope it leads you to love your dear ones more deeply as well.
We oftentimes talk about “coloring outside the lines” on this blog: so, how do you hope your book will help readers color outside the lines? I have no idea. Fiction is a different beast than non-fiction in that the writer of a story must share power with the reader when it comes to responses. I prefer to leave the takeaways to my readers as I have no idea how Ravi’s and Kat’s hero’s journeys will intersect with yours.
How and where can we find you on the Internet? You can read my blog (mitaliblog.com), or connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter if those are some of your favorite places to go. Can’t wait to meet you!
Like I said, swoon-worthy! Leave a comment for Mitali if you want the chance to win her book, otherwise, head to your favorite bookseller and pick up FORWARD ME BACK TO YOU. Also, look for more chances to win over on Instagram in August.
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