Interview with JJ Johnson

JJ Johnson has been so amazing to be on my blog today, to answer questions about herself and her debut novel, This Girl is Different.


Evie is different. Not just her upbringing-though that's certainly been unusual-but also her mindset. She's smart, independent, confident, opinionated, and ready to take on a new challenge: The Institution of School.

It doesn't take this homeschooled kid long to discover that high school is a whole new world, and not in the way she expected. It's also a social minefield, and Evie finds herself confronting new problems at every turn, failing to follow or even understand the rules, and proposing solutions that aren't welcome or accepted.
Not one to sit idly by, Evie sets out to make changes. Big changes. The movement she starts takes off, but before she realizes what's happening, her plan spirals out of control, forcing her to come to terms with a world she is only just beginning to comprehend.

JJ Johnson's powerful debut novel will enthrall readers as it challenges assumptions about friendship, rules, boundaries, and power.

Random Questions:

What kind of music do you like listening to?

It depends on my mood.  When I’m hanging laundry on the clothesline, I love me some dance-y pop.  Taking a shower calls for classic rock, and as a child of the eighties, I can’t go past a good eighties fest when I’m driving.  Plus I love Ani Difranco and Tom Petty and Prince and so on.

What Book(s) have you read recently?

I have a habit of going to the library and checking out a whole stack of books, whatever looks good.  I’m somewhat kid-like in the sense that I won’t finish a book if it doesn’t hold my interest.  That said, I just finished reading Harmony, a YA sci-fi novel from Japanese author Project Itoh.  For fun pop-social-science, I’m perusing Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes, by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, and I was fascinated by What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio.  I’m now reading Almanac of the Dead, by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Which is/are your favorite book(s) of all time?

Tough question, but probably Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss.  (That’s a serious answer.  You won’t find a better treatise on the dangers of fascism than Yertle; and Gertrude McFuzz, from ‘Other Stories’ is all you need to know about consumerism, body image, and drugs.)

What's your favorite ice cream/frozen yogurt flavor?

For waistline reasons, I usually stick to fro-yo:  Stonyfield Organic’s After Dark Chocolate, with a spoonful of organic peanut butter—straight from the grinder, no salt—mixed in.  Occasionally I’ll dip in to my husband’s Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, or Mint Chocolate Cookie.  Mmm.

Dream Vacation Spot?

My dream vacation is to see as much as the world as possible, with as little impact on the earth as possible.  I’ll travel just about anywhere.  It’s a big world, there’s so much to see.

What is your favorite Movie/TV Show? Actor/Actress?

I try not to waste my life by sitting on the couch, but I do watch things on Netflix while I work out.  Right now it’s the first season of Glee.  My favorite movies include Star Wars (IV-VI), Good Will Hunting, and Once—an amazing movie about struggling musicians in Dublin.  As for actors and actresses, I have a weakness for Natalie Portman, because I used to see her around Harvard.

Serious(ish) Questions:

What gave you the inspiration for This Girl is Different?

Obama was campaigning, and I was thinking about change, and the system, and high school (because I’m always thinking about high school).  I appreciate that Obama went to school both within and outside the US educational structure.  It got me thinking:  what would it be like to experience high school with an outsider’s perspective? 

How did you choose the title?

My boyfriend in college had a t-shirt that listed a bunch of gender stereotypes on the back, and the front said, “This Boy is Different.”  I loved it so much that I picked up a sharpie and made myself a t-shirt that said, “This Girl is Different.”  If I still had that shirt, I would give it to Evie.  It would suit her.

Of all the quotes in the chapter headings, which one is your favorite?

Jeez!  Why don’t you just ask me which child is my favorite?  I love them all.  But I’ll go with the Walker Evans quote:  “Stare.  Pry, listen, eavesdrop.  Die knowing something.  You are not here long.”  That runs through my head all the time.  It inspires me to be bold, be open, and live a little!  It also justifies my compulsive eavesdropping habit.

Do you see yourself in any of your characters? How did you create your characters?

I have a lot in common with Evie, but she’s not me.  She’s more comfortable in her body than I was as a teenager.  And while Evie is never cynical, I can be very sarcastic.  Evie is quite self-righteous at times, but I admire how she listens to opposing points of view, and she’ll admit when she’s wrong.  It took me a long time to learn how to do that.  

It’s been said that a writer doesn’t write what she knows about humans; she writes what she knows about human nature.  That sums it up well.  My characters are based on everyone I’ve ever met.  Unless they’re not.

What do you hope readers take from your book?

1.  That the “right” to free speech comes with the responsibility to be a constructive part of your community.  
2.  Be who you are.  Learn, grow, admit when you’re wrong … but don’t hide what makes you unique and awesome.  Celebrate it.  Remember: “You are a part of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars,” (as Max Ehrmann puts it in his Desiderata).
3.  They’re human and they might make mistakes, but there are plenty of really good guys out there.

Did you always want to be a writer? What made you want to become a writer?

It hasn’t been a straight line from A to B, but I’ve wanted to become an author since the day Eric Carle visited my kindergarten and showed us how he wrote and illustrated The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 

Other than writing, what do you do in your spare time?

Rock climbing, reading, painting, gardening, hiking, yoga, back-country camping, eating yummy food.  Relaxing and laughing with my family and friends.  There’s so much that’s good and beautiful in this world.  Life is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated.

Thank you so much to JJ Johnson for taking the time to answer these questions! Her book, This Girl is Different is AH-MAZING and takes a look at life and the perspective of the US school system from someone who's been home-schooled there whole life. Like the title– It's different!

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